Museum Folkwang
  • Drawings of the 19th Century – Heroic Landscapes

  • Even if a true to nature reproduction of a real landscape gained increasing importance in the 19th century, the concept of the heroic landscape, existing since the Renaissance and very common during the Baroque period, was still current, a concept in which dramatic events, usually taken from mythology, were played out.

    Johann Christian Reinhart’s sepia drawing ›Atalantas fights Hyllus and Rhoecus‹ from 1799, for example, illustrates the struggle of Atalanta, the outcast daughter of the king, against two centaurs, who are attempting to approach her: one centaur is already fatally wounded, the second is about to suffer the same fate as Atalanta has already aimed her drawn bow at him.

    This dramatic event takes place in a fictional landscape in which the various classical pictorial elements are brought together. The foreground is characterized by a so-called repoussoir in dark colors, formed from the silhouette of a tree rising from the left and a wedge-shaped, shaded field, behind which the light clearing with the figures stands out all the more clearly. Rugged, looming cliffs, a stream tumbling over a number of falls, but also the striking grove of trees in the centre create the impression of a primeval landscape beyond civilization – corresponding to the event depicted as Atalanta was raised by bears in the wilderness far from human society. The only sign of civilization is the gate of a temple which can be made out in the distance.

    The principle protagonist of heroic landscapes in the 19th century was Joseph Anton Koch, who spent almost his entire artistic career in Rome. The themes he dealt with could be taken from classical mythology, as in the drawings ›Landscape with Hercules at the Crossroads‹ and ›Diana and Acteon‹, but also from the Bible, to which ›Landscape with the Flight to Egypt‹ bears witness. This scene from Hercules’ youth shows quite clearly how the landscape itself accentuates the sense of the events depicted: The different lives are promised to the hero by the standing personification of ›virtus‹ (virtue) and ›voluptas‹ (desire), lying half-naked next to the brooding Hercules, can be understood by the two types of landscapes that divide the sheet in two parts. The side of ›voluptas‹ shows a lovely summer landscape – leafy trees, a pond with swans in the foreground and people swimming and dancing in the background – while ›virtus‹ points to an inhospitable mountainous area behind her, with only a few dead trees to be seen among the rocks, but also – in the distance – a sunbathed peak which rewards the effort required to reach it.

    Finally, Friedrich Preller, who as a young artist lived in Italy between 1827 and 1831 and was influenced by Joseph Anton Koch, took up the theme of Odysseus on a number of occasions. From 1833 to 1836 he produced a cycle of frescos on this theme in the house of the Leipzig publisher Härtel. After making copy drawings of this cycle for documentary purposes in 1857, he produced new Odysseus drawings, which were well received and which led to his making a second cycle in Weimar. To this context belongs as well the large format drawing ›The Phaiaken carry the sleeping Odysseus on Land‹ which is notable for its unusual angle from the darkness of a cave out to a sunlit bay.
  • Exh_Title_S: Drawings of the 19th Century – Heroic Landscapes
  • Exh_Id: 613
  • Exh_Comment_S (Verantw): Department of Prints and Drawings
  • Exh_SpareNField01_N (Verantw ID): 186
Works
Atalantas Kampf gegen Hyllus und Rhoecus
Landschaft mit Herkules am Scheideweg
Diana und Aktäon
Landschaft mit Flucht nach Ägypten
Die Phäaken tragen den schlafenden Odysseus an Land
Odysseus auf Ziegenjagd