1726 Danzig - Berlin 1801

Born in Danzig to a grain merchant who copied old masters from engravings in his free time, Daniel Chodowiecki arrived in Berlin in 1743 to work in his uncle’s hardware store. While training as a salesman, he learned enamel painting from the Augsburg painter Johann Lorenz Haid and attended life-drawing classes at the private academy of Christian Bernhard Rode. Chodowiecki specialized in miniature painting and became successful enough to give up his career as a salesman. It was only in 1758 that he made his first attempts with the etching needle. Soon, his talent was discovered and he died the most famous German illustrator of the eighteenth century with his oeuvre comprising more than two thousand etchings.

The Small L'Hombre Table 1758

etching and aquatint on laid paper; 78 x 108 mm (3 x 4 ¼ inches)

Engelmann 13 second (final) state; Bauer 15

The print shows the two Demoiselles Quantin, friends of the Chodowiecki family, and the artist’s wife playing L’Hombre, a card game invented in Spain and popular in many European places at the time. While considered one of his major prints, the etching dates from the artist’s first year of printmaking. In these early works he was not yet bound by or dependent on the literary or educational works that would occupy him later. They are based on the artist’s visual notes of the daily life around him. Chodowiecki once said about himself that he did not copy much from paintings or plaster casts but that he preferred to draw directly from nature—indeed, he called nature “his only teacher.” In this respect he was similar to Adolph Menzel, his great nineteenth century counterpart.

The print is also an extremely early example of the use of aquatint. In his catalogue raisonné on Chodowiecki, Engelmann quotes a note by the artist on the L’Hombre Table describing it as “ein Versuch die aquatinta-Manier nachzumachen, die damahls außer in den Arbeiten von Leprince, St.non und Charpentier wenig bekannt war” (an essay in the aquatint manner that at the time was hardly known apart from the works of [Jean-Baptiste] Le Prince, [Jean-Claude Robert, Abbé de] Saint-Non, and François-Philippe Charpentier; Engelmann, p. 12 note 21). In her seminal work on aquatint, Christiane Wiebel explains that Chodowiecki’s interest in it was limited to a few isolated experiments in which he explored the effects of light and shade in interiors. His use of etched tone in such prints as the L’Hombre Table remained subtle and still stands in the tradition of Rembrandt’s tonal wiping (Aquatinta oder “Die Kunst mit dem Pinsel in Kupfer zu stechen”. Das druckgraphische Verfahren von seinen Anfängen bis zu Goya, exhibition catalogue, Kunstsammlungen der Veste Coburg/Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Aachen, 2007–08, pp. 20f. and p. 18 fig. 9).