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Joseph Anton Koch (Elbigenalp 1768-1839 Rome)
Joseph Anton Koch (Elbigenalp 1768-1839 Rome)

Heroische Landschaft mit Regenbogen

Joseph Anton Koch (Elbigenalp 1768-1839 Rome)
Heroische Landschaft mit Regenbogen
oil on canvas
29 x 23¾ in. (73.5 x 60.3 cm.)
Painted in 1806
Private collection, Denmark.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 18 March 1983, lot 117, when acquired by Caesar Pinnau.
G. Czymmek, E. Mai, et al, Heroismus und Idylle, Formen der Landschaft um 1800 bei Jacob Philipp Hackert, Joseph Anton Koch und Johann Christian Reinhart, Cologne, 1984, p. 92, no. 72, illustrated.
O. von Lutterotti, Joseph Anton Koch, 1768-1839, Leben und Werk, Munich-Vienna, 1985, pp. 53, 284, no. G10A, illustrated.
C. von Holst, Joseph Anton Koch, Ansichten der Natur, in the exhibition catalogue, Stuttgart, 1989, pp. 215-217, no. 77.
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Joseph Anton Koch, Ansichten der Natur, 26 August-29 October 1989, no. 77.

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Clemency Henty
Clemency Henty

Lot Essay

This painting is the second of one of four variants of an iconic composition which define Koch's reputation as a landscape painter who infused the classical tradition of landscape painting with the spirituality of German Romanticism.

Although Koch referred to these landscapes as 'Greek', they were clearly inspired by the landscapes of Italy. Describing the setting of this series to his English patron, the collector John Nott, Koch wrote: 'It is an area as one would imagine Ancient Greece. I found the motif in the beautiful surroundings of Salerno on the way to Paestum, with antique towns bathed in striking light. One can see the sea with mountains in shades of blue in the background. Shepherds and shepherdesses are shown partly in shadow, and partly in brilliant sun.'
Koch is considered one of the most important of the Nazarenes, a group of Rome-based German artists who sought to purify art through a combination of medievalism and a highly linear style expressed in mostly religious subjects. In truth, however, Koch's style and outlook is less ascetic and one-dimensional than that of his peers and, as the present painting attests, combine neo-classical principles with a modern Romanticism, in which nature acts as a vehicle for the expression of spiritual and religous themes. These elements are brought together most successfully in Koch's 'heroic landscapes', a genre he pioneered with his friend Johann Christian Reinhart, which heightens 'the grandeur and structural clarity of classical Italianate landscapes in the tradition of Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Dughet' (M. Cheetham, in The Dictionary of Art, London, 1996, 18, p. 182), and finds its epitome in the present composition.

As in the other variants, the defining feature of this composition is the rainbow, a clearly religious symbol, which Koch painted frequently, including in its most obvious context of Noah after the flood. As in paintings of the Deluge, the rainbow represents God's covenant with man. Most importantly, however, the rainbow's symbolic significance is reinforced by its compositional function as the upper half of an oval which continues clockwise over the line of the bushes in the right foreground, and sweeps upwards over the heads of the goats and shepherds to come full circle along the branches of the tree on the far left, its branches pointing skywards. The oval encircles both Heaven and Earth, nature and man, the classical past and the Christian present, literally reflecting God's dominion over all things, and a quasi-mystical unity which binds all things together.

This subliminal perspective subsumes objects and temporal dimensions into a single whole and is typical of German Romanticism, but more subtly conveyed than in the more obviously emotive canvases of later artists such as Caspar David Friedrich. Koch's spiritual message is tempered by its reference to classical antecedents and by a crisper, more linear style, which results in a clarity of light very different to the more suffused atmosphere evident in the paintings of later German Romantics.

The earliest version of this composition was executed in 1805 and is now in the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe; the third, largest version (fig. 1), today in Munich's Neue Pinakothek, was begun in 1804 but not completed until 1815; while the last version, executed in 1824, is today in a private collection. There is also a highly finished drawing of the composition in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg (fig. 2), which is generally dated to 1806 -- the year of the present work.

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