Anselm Feuerbach • Lesbia and her Sparrow
Black chalk heightened with white on brownish paper
40.5 : 31.5 cm
Monogrammed centre left
Verso: Female figure on a southern shore
Paul Cassirer, Berlin
Julius Böhler, Munich
This is a preliminary study for Feuerbach’s painting of the same title. (See Jürgen Ecker, Anselm Feuerbach. Leben und Werk. Kritischer Katalog der Gemälde, Ölskizzen und Ölstudien, Munich 1991, p. 284, no. 448)
1829 Speyer - 1880 Venice
Anselm Feuerbach is considered, alongside Arnold Böcklin and Hans von Marées, one of the most important representatives of the German Romantics, a German-speaking group of artists based in Italy, formed in the second half of the 19th century.
After spending time studying in Düsseldorf, Munich and Antwerp, Feuerbach travels to Paris in 1851 where he becomes a student at the studio of Thomas Couture, whose monumental painting “Romans During the Decadence” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) becomes a lasting influence on his artistic practice.
However, it is only in Italy – a destination he seeks out over and over from 1855 onwards – that Feuerbach finds his artistic home. A stipend enables him to travel to Venice, wherefrom he makes his way from there to Rome via Florence in 1856. Here he rubs shoulders with artists Arnold Böcklin, Reinhold Begas and Ludwig Passini, as well as his future biographer Julius Allgeyer, who introduces him to patron of the arts Count Schack in 1862. Schack purchases a number of Feuerbach’s paintings over the coming years, thus securing the financial stability of the spendthrift painter.
Feuerbach’s decisive encounter in Rome, artistically as well as privately, is meeting Anna Risi, known as Nanna. She becomes his model in 1860 and shortly thereafter his lover. Nanna embodies Feuerbach’s ideal of femininity like no other; to him she is the epitome of timeless beauty, majesty, dignity and classical stature. In the coming years the young Roman will be the primary subject of his paintings, in which she appears not only as a real persons but also as historical or mythological figures (i.e. “Lucretia Borgia” (Städel Museum, Frankfurt on Main) or “Iphigenia” (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt)). Although the development of Feuerbach’s characteristic style, defined by subtly muted colour and a monumental perception of shape, is irrevocably intertwined with Nanna, their relationship comes to an end in 1865 - not lastly because of the artist’s contrary nature. Only years later he finds a new model in Lucia Brunacci, who serves mainly as the heroic figure in the grand compositions of Feuerbach’s mature period (i.e. “Medea” (Neue Pinakothek, Munich)).
In 1872 Feuerbach accepts a professorship of historical painting at the Academy in Vienna; four years later he leaves this position due to a lack of artistic successes during this period. After a short stay in Germany he returns to Venice in 1876, where, aged 50, he meets a lonely end in 1880.
Feuerbach’s stepmother, Henriette, played a substantial role in his gaining recognition as well as economic stability, functioning as her son’s agent and handling his business interests in the homeland. After his death she edits his autobiographical writings and publishes them as “Legacy”. The work remains the longest running print of an artist’s biography in the German language to date, posthumously securing Feuerbach’s legendary status for decades.
Anselm Feuerbach: Selbstbildnis, 1873, Berlin, SMPK, Alte Nationalgalerie