Franz Horny

Franz Horny
(Hof 1798 - 1824 Olevano)

View of Genazzano, 1822

Pen and gray ink over pencil on wove paper, watermark Tremonti
‘encircled dove and three hills’, 18,2 x 12,4 cm

Provenance:
The artist’s estate;
Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Rumohr (1785-1843), Dresden, Copenhagen and
Lübeck (Lugt 2160);
Joseph Meyer (1786-1856), Hildburghausen;
Professor Friedrich Nicolaus Joseph Bornmüller (1862-1948), Weimar;
Marburg, J. A. Stargardt, auction sale 524, October 28, 1955, part of lot 421 (stating ‘six sheets are detached’);
Ernst Jürgen Otto (1906-?), Berlin and Celle (Lugt 573 b);
Munich, Karl & Faber, auction sale 69, April 27, 1959, part of lot 514;
Erhard Göpel, Munich;
Barbara Göpel, Munich;
Private collection, Germany.

Literature:
Walther Scheidig, Franz Horny. 1798 Weimar-Olevano 1824, catalogue raisonné, Berlin 1954, see no. 234;
Hinrich Sieveking (ed.), ‘Supplement to the catalogue raisonné’, 1954, in Hanna Hohl, Hermann Mildenberger and Hinrich Sieveking, Franz Theobald Horny. Ein Romantiker im Lichte Italiens. Im Blickfeld der Goethezeit, II, exhib. cat., Kunstsammlungen zu Weimar and Hamburger Kunsthalle, Berlin 1998, p. 169.

 

 

For Franz Horny, an artist of incomparable talent astounded Roman artistic circles, the meeting with the art theorist, collector and patron Carl Friedrich von Rumohr in May 1815 was to be of momentous importance. Rumohr invited the young artist, who was then a pupil at the drawing and painting school in Weimar run by Goethe’s advisor Johann Heinrich Meyer, to accompany him to Rome in 1816. Once in Rome, Meyer introduced Horny to the doyen of landscape painting, Joseph Anton Koch, and secured him a place in the studio of Peter von Cornelius, where he astounded colleagues with his studies of plants and fruit. Cornelius, like Friedrich Overbeck, was one of the leading members of the Nazarene group. When Cornelius returned to Germany in 1818, Horny began to work almost exclusively as a landscapist. In the previous summer he had made a first visit to Olevano in the company of Rumohr. For German artists, the picturesque town of Olevano was a Sehnsuchtsort, a ‘place of longing’. Since its discovery by Koch in the early nineteenth century the town has been inextricably linked with the history of German art. In summer 1818, the village became Horny’s hilltop refuge where he could escape the blistering heat of a Roman summer sketching in an environment that was beneficial to his failing health – 1818 was the year in which he experienced the first major symptoms of the fatal lung disease that was to bring about his early death, after prolonged suffering, in Olevano in 1824.

By 1818, artistic differences between Horny and Rumohr had forced the two men to go their separate ways. The rupture of the friendship deeply distressed Horny, a sensitive young man. Nevertheless, as a token of lasting gratitude to his mentor he bequeathed his sketchbooks to Rumohr in his will. The sketchbooks constitute the most important part of Horny’s legacy in that they document his artistic development. All of them date from the final three years of his career. Two of the sketchbooks are thematically related and identical in format. One of these is now in the collection of the Hamburger Kunsthalle and the other in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich.1 The present sheet is from the Munich Sketchbook. The format matches, although the left margin and the lower edge are very slightly trimmed. The sheet also carries the same watermark as the remaining pages in the sketchbook - ‘encircled dove [and three hills]’.

The present sheet was sold at auction by Stargardt in Marburg in 1955 as part of a lot containing the sketchbook and six detached loose sheets. Only four years later it reappeared at auction, offered as a single sheet at Karl & Faber in Munich. The Hamburg Sketchbook and the Munich Sketchbook were mainly used by Horny in 1822. Both sketchbooks present a deeply empathic documentation of the daily life of the inhabitants of Olevano. Although the sketchbooks contain a number of studies of plant life and animals, Horny’s main interest is clearly in the rural populace – most of the figure studies are of women with children, in domestic situations or observed going about their daily activities – and in the town itself, embedded in a hilly landscape of outstanding natural beauty.

In Horny’s eyes Olevano was a wahres Zauberland [a truly magical place]2 – something of a miniature Arcadia that he would roam tirelessly, sketchbook and pencil in hand, capturing and rediscovering it from ever-changing perspectives, at different times of day and in changing weather conditions.

He hiked regularly to neighboring towns and villages whose ancient castles and forts were perched on the clifftops ‘like swallows’ nests’.One of these, only a few kilometers to the southwest, was the small medieval town of Genazzano which stands on a narrow, north-south ridge of tufaceous rock rising from a flat valley floor. An imposing Renaissance palace, now known as the Castello Colonna, towers on a spur of rock above the medieval town. For several centuries the palace was the residence and fiefdom of the Colonnas, an aristocratic Roman family. Horny’s chosen viewpoint shows how the majestic building rises up to greet the traveler coming from the Sacco valley in the south, and how it opens towards the town in a graceful, two-storey arcature. Massive corner constructions flank the courtyard on three sides and emphasize the monumental, fortress-like character of the building. Slightly higher, to the palace’s left, is the tall spire of the pilgrimage church of Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio, while just below, the Romanesque bell tower of San Paolo rises between the rooftops. Horny depicts this tight ‘nest’ of interlocked, overlapping roofs and houses clinging to the hillside as a homogenous entity, a cohesive, tightly grouped block of cuboid elements. The striking description Horny gave his mother of the narrow alleys of Olevano spontaneously springs to mind: ‘[…] and the singular character of the village itself, most certainly of a kind to inspire the imagination; picture this for yourself - in the whole village not one straight road, it is all built on rock, and the singularly quaint streets are nothing but stairways, and now to all sides [are] views into truly paradisiacal surroundings.’4

Horny’s prodigious skills as a draftsman, above all in the depiction of architecture, were recognized and encouraged early on by his mentor Rumohr. In the present sheet, his talent is especially evident in the rendering of the topography, where he works the pen in precise, carefully controlled strokes of gray.5 His aspiration to ‘interpret nature with rigor and a sense of spatial perspective, as the painters of the fifteenth century have done’ is clearly discernible in his portrayal of the architecture of Genazzano.6 Simple yet distinctive parallel hatching enlivens the image and defines the volumes and structures of the buildings in response to the play of light and shade. This small sketchbook sheet also reveals many of the hallmarks of Horny’s idiosyncratic graphic style – the image is suffused with the gentle, rhythmical flow of his delicate pen strokes. In his sketchbook drawings he liked to combine the graphic energy of cursory preliminary drawing in pencil – as in the lower portion of the present sheet – with the precision of the pen. Earth and sky are skillfully interwoven and rapid notational strokes are used to define the cloud formations, the outlines of treetops and the distant mountain – elements which reveal Horny’s characteristic tendency towards abstraction and stylization when expressing his immediate, subjective experience of nature.

Built on a slope overlooking the broad valley of the Sacco River, the town of Genazzano is set amid the gentle foothills of the nearby Prenestini Mountains, which act as a backdrop to the town. Horny has widened the view of the plain in the foreground but restricts landscape details to a number of rapid indications in pencil. The combination of pen and pencil is what makes the sheet particularly attractive. It has all the immediacy of a rapidly notated observation of nature and is a superb example of the drawings – sometimes sketched in a non-finito style – that were produced by the generation of artists working around 1820 and later. Bands of earth and vegetation dominate the foreground but despite the impression of non finito Horny’s landscape is composed in a classical manner. The precise, carefully layered arrangement of the landscape recalls the landscapes of Koch. The tall, slender trees act as repoussoir elements leading the viewer’s eye into the composition and form an arch that frames an unimpeded view of the town at the center.

A number of other views of Genazzano by Horny are recorded. A sheet in the Hamburg Sketchbook contains a meticulously worked study of the façade of a Romanesque palace, showing the bell tower of San Paolo glimpsed behind it.7 It is one of Horny’s rare, purely architectural drawings. Another sheet, now in a Munich private collection, shows a view of the town from a different angle. From a plain with tall, scattered trees the eye is led over the massive substructure of the palace with its sloping talus towards a part of the town where the terrain falls away to the north. The skyline is dominated by the distinctive, free-standing steeple of Santa Maria del Buon Consiglio.8

Dr. Peter Prange

 

 


1 According to Scheidig, op. cit., 1954, nos. 233 and 234, both the Hamburg Sketchbook and the Munich Sketchbook were at one time in the possession of Rumohr. They are identical with two sketchbooks of 123 pages each that are listed in an inventory of Rumohr’s estate, although no mention of Horny’s name is given. See Die Kunstsammlung des Freiherrn C. F. L. F. von Rumohr, […], beschreibend dargestellt von J. G. A. Frenzel, […], Lübeck 1846, p. 429, nos. 4305 and 4306.

2 Ernst Ludwig Schellenberg, Der Maler Franz Horny. Briefe und Zeugnisse, Berlin-Lichterfelde 1925, p. 69.

3 Schellenberg op. cit., 1925, p. 101.

4 Ibid., p. 103.

5 Carl Friedrich von Rumohr, Drey Reisen nach Italien, Leipzig 1832, p. 205.

6 Schellenberg, op. cit.,1925, , p. 101.

7 Palace and Church in Genazzano, pencil, 184 x 125 mm, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Kupferstichkabinett, inv. 1959/52.

8 View of Genazzano, pen in gray ink over traces of pencil, 263 x 204 mm, private collection. See Peter Prange and Andreas Stolzenburg (eds.), Spurenlese. Zeichnungen und Aquarelle aus drei Jahrhunderten, exhib. cat., Hamburger Kunsthalle and Fondation Custodia, Paris, Munich 2016, p. 194, no. 76, repr.

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