1801 Heidelberg - Karlsruhe 1833
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Landscape at the Foothills of the Alps ca. 1821 or 1822
pen and black ink with grey wash on wove paper; 271 x 401 mm (10 5/8 x 15 3/4 inches)
the estate of the artist, by descent to his brother and sister-in-law
Bernhard and Sophie Fries
Eugen Dreisch, Munich (by 1918)
Ernst Fries was one of those Romantic artists who reached maturity early but died young. He was born into an art-inclined family. His father was a banker and owned a factory that produced madder paint. Ernst received his first drawing lessons from Friedrich Rottmann (together with Rottmann’s son Carl and the young Carl Philipp Fohr). From 1818 he studied at the academy in Munich where he continued to draw extensively and became an early practitioner of lithography. After travelling through Southern Germany and Switzerland, he went to Italy in 1823 where he stayed mainly in Rome and its environs until 1827. Upon his return to Heidelberg, he used his many Italian sketches in his landscape paintings. He became court artist to the Grand Duke Leopold of Baden and moved to Karlsruhe in 1831. Unfortunately, his life was cut short when he died two years later, in all likelihood after contracting scarlet fever. Ernst’s estate came to his considerably younger brother Bernhard (1820 Heidelberg–Munich 1879) who was also an artist.
The present drawing shows a scenery in the so-called Voralpenland (the foothill of the Alps). It is loosely outlined in pen and ink and then worked-up with brush and wash in an equally loose manner. The trees to the right especially show the assuredness with which the artist handled the brush. A wedge-like structure to the left appears to be the only man-made element, used here to balance the composition in the foreground. A group of majestic mountains dominates the center of the composition in the far distance.
Ernst Fries was capable of deploying a wide range of drawing styles – broad and loose, as here, as well as fine and precise. This, and fact that Ernst’s estate passed into the possession of this younger brother Bernhard, who was also an artist, make it sometimes difficult to differentiate his hand from that of his younger brother Bernhard. It is especially the masterful subtlety of the brush work that supports the attribution of our drawing to Ernst. It likely was created during his second or third trip to the Alps in either 1821 or 1822. The sheet can be compared to his studies of trees and other landscapes from this period (cf. Roediger-Diruf, nos. 14 and 15). A drawing from 1819 in which Fries had copied one for Joseph Anton Koch’s Roman etchings (ibid., no. 5) already displays a similar precision of line combined with the same subtle grey wash that characterizes our drawing.