Autumn Auctions 2020

19th Century Art


Carl Gustav Carus

Leipzig 1789 – 1869 Dresden

Ship mill on the Elbe near Dresden. 1826

Oil on canvas. 21,5 × 29 cm. (8 ½ × 11 ⅜ in.) Monogrammed (alloyed) and dated on a stone in the lower centre: GC 26. Catalogue raisonné: Not in the catalogue raisonné by Prause.  [3614]

ProvenanceFormerly Private Collection, Eastern Germany, and Galerie Arnoldi-Livie, Munich


EUR 100.000 – 150.000
USD 118,000 – 176,000

Sold for:
137,500 EUR (incl. premium)

Schiffsmühle auf der Elbe bei Dresden

Auction 322Wednesday, 2 December 2020
03:00 PM

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Literature and IllustrationDas Unendliche im Endlichen. Romantik und Gegenwart. Malerei, Zeichnungen, Fotografie und Installationen. Jena, Kunstsammlung, Städtische Museen, 2015, cat. no. 15

Observing nature accurately was essential for Carus as a scientist, and this attentive perception also did much to define his vision as an artist. During long walks, he would absorb moving visual experiences, which he often described in writing and sometimes sketched down on paper, but only rarely translated into an oil painting. In his memoirs, Carus recalled some of the impressive nature scenes he had recorded, only to resignedly state: "In short, there were images that very much would have deserved to be presented in the larger oil paintings they merited, but for which I had neither sufficient time nor sufficient art.”

This view of the ship mill on the banks of the River Elbe, executed in oil on canvas and clearly marked with the artist’s monogram on one of the foreground stone blocks, ranks as such a fully executed work of art – it is so much more than just a fleeting impression of nature or a rapid study. On his wanderings, Carus had repeatedly studied the ship mill, located on the Neustadt side of the Elbe just below the Japanese Palace. This is evidenced by two small drawings in the artist's estate, in which the mill has been sketched against the silhouette of Dresden’s Old Town on the opposite bank.

A different view was chosen for the finished oil painting: Here, topographical specificity has been abandoned in favor of a more generally conceived landscape. Through an opening in the overgrown bushes on the riverbank, which discretely form a natural frame, we see the wooden superstructures of the floating mill lying calmly on the gently flowing water. Carus was now able to apply many of the painting skills acquired through his studies of nature to achieve a compelling vividness, after having broken away from the symbol-laden visual language of Caspar David Friedrich and leaning increasingly towards Dahl's suggestions: The gnarled trunks of the willows and the implied movement of their tops and branches, the shimmering greys of the foliage, the loamy, stony ground, the way wood and stone are sculpted using color and brushstrokes, the decaying fence of woven reeds and the scattered boulders which create a boundary between the scene and the viewer.

But Carus the sensitive observer of nature was particularly interested in capturing atmospheric phenomena in his painting. Take the reflected contours on the water, or the coloured glints that dissolve softly into the river, or especially the light and colour that emanate from the towering sky itself, with its impeccably traced crescent moon. The colours shift delicately from ever paler yellow to shades of red and violet and are contrasted by delicate strips of cloud that reflect the crepuscular light almost diaphanously. The same reddish shimmer can also be seen on the ship mill and along the dark rows of trees on the Elbe’s far side, which probably belong to that Das Große Gehege (Great Enclosure) so famously painted by Friedrich. Writing in his Fragmente eines malerischen Tagebuchs (Fragments of a Painterly Diary) around the mid-1820s, Carus described in detail "the most wonderful play of colours" and "atmospheric veils" that he would see in the evening sky above the Elbe. Here, in one of his most impressive works, they become a palpable, painterly experience.

Dr. Gerd Spitzer

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