Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Etchings of Young Goethe

It's not surprising that many writers are also talented artists, and many artists also write. In some cases - David Jones is an obvious example - it's impossible to say which medium predominates. But I was still surprised to stumble across the accomplished etchings featured in this post, created by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1768, at the age of 18.

William Unger, Goethe
Etching, 1881
after the 1779 portrait in oils by Georg Oswald May

Although he is remembered today as Germany's greatest writer, early in life Goethe was inclined to become a painter; his lifelong interest in art is evidenced in his book On Colour, and of course the hero of The Sorrows of Young Werther is an aspiring artist. While studying law in Leipzig from 1765-1768, Goethe took drawing lessons from Adam Friedrich Oeser, director of the Leipzig Academy, who became a key influence on him. It was Oeser who encouraged Goethe to take up etching, and taught him the technique.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Landschaft nach A. Thiele (Dedié à Monsieur Goethe)
Etching, 1768


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Landschaft nach A. Thiele (Dedié à Monsieur le Docteur Hermann)
Etching, 1768


My two Goethe etchings were printed in 1893 from copper plates that had remained in the possession of a Leipzig family and were subsequently donated to the Leipzig city library. Both are interpretative etchings after landscapes by Alexander Thiele (1686-1752), and each has an etched dedication below the image, one to Goethe's father, and the other to his law teacher Dr. Christian Gottfried Hermann. The effect is rather like a pair of bookplates, though the etchings were not intended for use as exlibris.


10 comments:

Philip Wilkinson said...

What a pleasant surprise. And echt Romantic landscapes too, with mountains, waterfalls, and rocks and stones and trees. Loved the post heading too.

Neil said...

Yes, you couldn't ask for anything better (except the photography, which is a bit wonky). So glad you liked the heading, I was secretly pleased with it. Now I'm just waiting for those Shakespeare engravings to fall into my lap...

Roxana said...

amazing, i am totally blown-away by this, i had no idea!!! how did you find this information and the etchings themselves???

Neil said...

Roxana, everything comes from the Leipzig art revue, Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst. There's even more information there, but my German isn't good enough!

Jane Librizzi said...

I didn't know that Goethe had made etchings. Do you know whether these were intended to evoke specific locations? Goethe's landscapes seem much further away in time than they are. They look more like fantasies of nature than realism. The landscapes that began to pop out of the backgrounds of Flemish religious paintings in the 13th & 14th centuries look modern by comparison. It's no wonder Impressionism and the other modern -isms caused such outrage. Viewers had their expectations upended Like fashion in clothing, what looks natural at one time can look artificial at another.

Neil said...

Jane, I would guess that the original landscape paintings by Thiele would have been based on a particular landscape, but very much manipulated, as Philip suggests, to fit the Romantic ideal of the picturesque. Your feeling that they are fantastic rather than real has weight, but it's also true that the Romantics tried to make the real landscape fantastic, with castles and follies and all kinds of architectural garden tricks. Some kind reader of this blog may be able to tell us more!

drew simon said...

i have been lucky enough to find the engraving that is dedicated to his father。thank you for having this information available to help in my research。i would think mine is also a print from 1893,not sure how to tell,has a paermark with vangelder,which i have heard of ,but i believe they were in business for awhile。

Neil said...

Hi Drew, I'm pleased to be of help. I would imagine that your copy comes from the same 1893 edition as mine; I don't have mine immediately to hand to look for the Hollande Van Gelder watermark, but I will try to remember to check for this.

drew simon said...

Hi Neil, just wanted to update you as I just took my Goethe to the Antiques Roadshow and had Todd Weyman look at it. Great news, he said the paper was definitely Fromm the 1700's, so thrilled from this news.I want to thank you again for having this site and the information available to help us novices learn.

Neil said...

Hi Drew, that's great news. I'm very pleased for you.