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19th Century Art


Carl Blechen

Cottbus 1798 – 1840 Berlin

A Rocky Landscape with a Hermit.
Oil on canvas. 32,5 × 40,8 cm. (12 ¾ × 16 ⅛ in.) Catalogue raisonné: Accompanied by a certificate (in copy) by Prof. Dr. Helmut Börsch-Supan, Berlin, dated 9 February 2009.  [3019] Framed 

ProvenancePrivate Collection, Southern Germany

Addendum/ErratumProvenance: Private Collection, Switzerland (presumably acquired in the 1950s, until 2008) / Private Collection, Southern Germany

EUR 40.000 – 60.000
USD 46,500 – 69,800

Sold for:
50,000 EUR (incl. premium)

Eremit in Felslandschaft

Auction 334Wednesday, 1 December 2021
03:00 PM

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Disturbing harmony

The Hermit. The Monk. The Pilgrim. Carl Blechen associated no other figure so often and so closely with his landscapes as that of the lonely seeker who is in inner dialogue with himself and the world around him. Blechen's individual exploration of this pictorial motif forms a separate body of work that runs through all phases of his creative career, which lasted only about 15 years. As "personal confession paintings", according to Kilian Heck, works with this pictorial theme occupy a special position in Blechen's oeuvre: "... the artist, as a clergyman turned away from the world, also finds himself directly reflected in the picture itself. As in Friedrich's key work Monk by the Sea, the monk becomes the protagonist of seeing in general. The outer looking is juxtaposed with an inner feeling" (cf. K. Heck, in: Vergewisserung, Berlin 2018, p. 77f.).
Following his subjective perception, Blechen incorporates - far beyond the physical act of looking - the imaginary, the empathic, sometimes the visionary and the transcendent into his painting. The intensity of human perception, seeing as well as not seeing, are central themes of his artistic work.
Helmut Börsch-Supan describes our late work as a "landscape phantasm", in whose orderly, "calm overall impression" the main motif "irritatingly" breaks in: "the steeply towering, almost rearing rock, which repeats the outline of the hermit standing in front of it in great magnification". Even the "young trees", which barely find a foothold on this monstrous stone shadow, "cannot soften the menace of this appearance" (expert opinion).
Even in his earliest years as a freelance artist, Blechen dealt with the theme of the monk in a rocky landscape. At that time he worked as a stage decorator at the Königstädtisches Theater in Berlin, where the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann, in particular his "Elixirs of the Devil", were of great interest to him. In his painting "Felslandschaft mit Mönch" (Rock Landscape with Monk) (Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin), painted around 1826, the eerily wild stone massif of seemingly unsupportably layered boulders is still directly connected to the frightened, searching figure of the monk. In our late work, the ghostly terror emanating from the oversized monolith remains - apparently - unnoticed by the ageing hermit.
The quiet, almost supra-temporal mood of our painting corresponds with the balanced, light colour canon. In contrast to the hermit, the viewer nevertheless becomes aware of a disturbing disharmony, even danger. It is not only the shadowy rock that evokes a subtle restlessness. The entire ground seems to arch upwards in a peculiar way, to break open and, as it were, to rise up towards the sky. Nothing seems to remain permanently in its place. No shrub, no stone that finds support in a steady horizontal or vertical line. As is so often the case in Blechen's paintings, the foreground slips downwards, virtually at the viewer's feet. If grass and bushes are "more drawn than painted with a pointed brush", others remain "structureless, blotchy, especially in the rocks to the right of the hut", according to Börsch-Supan in his expert opinion. In addition, "grey veils are drawn over the terrain, which are difficult to interpret objectively, like so much in this picture" (ibid.). Indeed, Blechen's brush "seems to follow a feeling rather than the will to depict something precisely" (ibid.).
Börsch-Supan's numerous references to works from the Harz journey of 1833, which was so significant for Blechen, as well as to "Die Faraglioni" (Rave 1045) as one of the "most grandiose works" from the later creative period, point to the master at the end of his life's journey. Blechen had, as he confidently declared, "recognised and felt God's nature" (Rave, p. 23f) - and thus pointed painting in the right direction.

Anna Ahrens

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