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Alexander Rothaug (German, 1870-1946)
Alexander Rothaug (German, 1870-1946)

The Death of Achilles

Alexander Rothaug (German, 1870-1946)
The Death of Achilles
brown ink and oil en grisaille over traces of black chalk on canvas, unframed
86 1/8 x 64 ½ in. (218.8 x 163.8 cm.)
with Shepherd Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 9 December 1988.

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Lot Essay

Alexander Rothaug was active as a painter, stage designer and illustrator in Munich and his native Vienna in the waning years of the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th. Trained at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts by the Orientalist painter Leopold Carl Müller, Rothaug would go on to create his own distinctive style which defies easy classification. With an enduring interest in depicting ancient Greek, Roman, Germanic and Norse mythologies, Rothaug’s work blends the Classicism he had been taught at the Academy with elements of Jugendstil and also the arresting, atmospheric Symbolism of Franz von Stuck, under whose sway the artist fell during his time in Munich.
Paintings on the scale of The Death of Achilles do occur within the artist’s oeuvre. Rothaug created monumental paintings for theater buildings, ceiling paintings, and a group of large wall-mounted paintings still in situ at the Grand Hotel de l’Europe in Bad Gastein depicting scenes from Wagner’s Ring cycle. The present work may be preparatory for a commission for one of these monumental works, as in areas where the underdrawing is visible it is clear that Rothaug was still working out the specifics of the composition. The preparatory nature, and the fact that it may have been a part of a larger cycle of pictures, perhaps depicting the life of Achilles or the history of the Trojan War, likely explains why the work has not been signed. The complex, carefully detailed musculature was a particular interest of Rothaug’s, and the artist published a treatise on the depiction of the human body titled Statics and Dynamics of the Human Body in 1933.

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