Sotheby’s German, Austrian and Central European Paintings Sale May 18

Sotheby’s London Sale of 19th Century European Paintings on Wednesday, 18 May, 2011 will bring together some 163 works by artists from 15 countries: among them Spain, Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Italy, France, Switzerland, Britain, Israel, the Netherlands, Belgium, Russia, and South America. Among the distinct categories of pictures to be offered will be a strong contingent of Spanish, Orientalist, German, Austrian and Central European works. The sale is estimated to bring in excess of £6.5 million.

The German, Austrian and Central European section of the sale includes a masterpiece by Carl Christian Vogel von Vogelstein (German, 1788-1868). Entitled Girl with a Drawing Instrument, the Countess Thekla Ludolf, it is estimated at £50,000-70,000.

Painted during Vogel von Vogelstein’s extensive sojourn in Rome, the present work can be considered one of the artist’s masterpieces. It depicts a young woman caught in the act of drawing: she holds a double-ended drawing instrument in her right hand and a half-finished sketch of a scene rests on her lap. She looks at the artist –and the viewer –with a subtle and beautifully-observed gaze that combines a beguiling openness with an apparent innocence and a hint of gentle mischief. Her sumptuous, red velvet dress and the exquisite griffin-headed Empire chair on which she sits all speak of opulence and the refinement of the Grand Tour.

The sitter has been identified as the Countess Thekla Ludolf, née Weyssenhoff, an acquaintance of the artist’s Lithuanian patron Baron von Löwenstern. From 1807 Vogel von Vogelstein earned a living as drawing teacher to the Baron’s family, following them from Livonia to St Petersburg in 1808. It is likely that he met the Countess during these years, that a friendship ensued, and that their paths crossed again in Naples, the setting of the present work. While it is likely that the present portrait was a commissioned work, it is imbued with that sense of intimacy and tenderness that one would expect to find in a portrait of an artist’s close friend or family member.

In Junge Dame mit Zeichengerät, Vogel von Vogelstein presents his viewer with two scenes by using a compositional device that harks back to Renaissance painting: for behind the sitter, through the balcony’s arch with its plait-like twisted column, lies a dramatic, beautifully rendered vista of the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius, overarched by an azure sky slowly giving way to the paler light of evening. The composition thus combines the dramatic, classically-inspired landscape so central to Romantic painting with another subject emblematic of the age: a young woman of noble birth, practising a pastime of refinement that demonstrates for us her good character, gentle nature and fine breeding, while her flushed cheeks suggest a strong, even passionate, character.

Vogel von Vogelstein was the son of the portrait painter Christian Lebrecht Vogel (1759-1816), and studied painting at the Kunstakademie in Dresden. During his four years in St Petersburg he was able to establish himself by finding modest quarters in the house of Prince Gagarin and work as a portrait-painter, chiefly painting commissioned portraits of the numerous foreigners living at that time in the Russian capital. He also painted members of the Court. In 1812, von Vogelstein travelled to Italy via Prague and Vienna and he went back to Italy again in 1813: this time via Venice, Bologna and Florence to Rome, where he was to live until 1820. Upon his return to Germany, he succeeded Franz Gerhard von Kügelgen as Professor of Painting at the Dresden Academy.

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