The undisputed leader in the number of portraits of noble persons in the history of German painting
Anton Graff (November 18, 1736 June 22, 1813) a famous German artist of the second half of the 18th early 19th centuries, an outstanding master of the portrait genre of his era. Anton Graff, at a later stage in his work, also painted several beautiful portraits and more than 300 original drawings with a silver needle. Through his paintings, one can study the history of Germany at that time, the heroes of the painter’s works were dozens of outstanding artists, politicians and titled persons. The master’s biography is an example of the successful career of a talented artist in love with his work.
Anton Graff in his portraits was able to subtly capture and capture the character of a person. He often made copies of his work at the request of clients, and also painted over 80 self-portraits, most of which are now in museums in Germany and Switzerland.
Biography of Anton Graff
Anton Graff was born on November 18, 1736 in the town of Vertentur in northern Switzerland. He was the seventh of nine children in the family of a pewter-maker, and from childhood he had to help his father at work. Little Anton was distinguished by a cheerful character, from an early age he liked to draw, but he did not want to continue the family dynasty of artisans.
Fortunately, the future painter had an influential patron in time a local pastor, who persuaded the elder Graff to send his son to a drawing school in 1753. The famous artist Johann Ulrich Schellenberg became Anton’s first mentor. For 3 years of study, the young man became a favorite student of his protégé and soon surpassed him artistically. At the same time, Anton finally decided on the main genre of creativity a portrait and wrote his first paintings.
The artist returned to Augsburg
In 1756, the 20-year-old painter decided to leave Vertentour and went to Augsburg. From that moment until his death, Anton Graff constantly lived in Germany, only occasionally visiting his native Switzerland. In Augsburg, thanks to Schellenberg’s letters of recommendation, he met the local engraver Johann Jacob Haid, who helped the young artist find good clients.
Very soon Graff was able to win the recognition of the public in Augsburg, which caused great displeasure among the members of the local artists’ guild and became the cause of fierce persecution on their part. A year later, Anton was forced to leave for Ansbach, where he got a job as a master’s assistant to Johann Leonhard Schneider. Here he mainly had to make copies of paintings by other masters, which helped hone his drawing technique to perfection.
In February 1759, Anton received a letter from Johann Heid, in which he invited him to come to Augsburg again, where the situation changed radically. The main opponents of Graff died in a few years, so nothing prevented the artist from taking advantage of the lucrative offer. Upon arrival in Augsburg, the career of the young painter quickly took off, he became a popular portrait painter and had many wealthy clients.
In March 1764, Graff met his future father-in-law, Johann Georg Sulzer, when he was passing through Augsburg on his way from Berlin to Switzerland. The young man really liked the famous German philosopher, and after 7 years they became related when Anton married Sulzer’s daughter, Elizabeth. The artist lived in this marriage for more than 40 years, he had five children, two of whom died in infancy.
Anton owes the official portraitist of the local art academy of Saxony
In April 1764, Anton briefly moved to Regensburg, where he acquired new influential contacts and acquaintances, fulfilling orders for local nobles. Then he decided to visit his native Switzerland, where he was enthusiastically received by friends and relatives, and in November 1765 received an invitation to come to Dresden to take the honorary position of the official portraitist of the local art academy of Saxony.
The discussion of the terms of future work by correspondence took several months, and already in April 1766, Anton arrived in the capital of Saxony. His main responsibility was to paint one portrait a year, for which the elector pledged to pay the artist 400 thalers a year and another 100 for travel expenses in Germany.
At the court of the Saxon ruler Anton Graff, who at that time was not yet 30 years old, was received very favorably. The artist quickly made new influential friends and provided himself with generous orders for many years to come. Until his death, he painted portraits of influential persons, leaving more than 2,000 beautiful paintings to posterity.
Graff was repeatedly invited to Berlin, offering the position of court painter and a huge salary, but he always refused these offers. The master got great pleasure from his work and place of residence, was happy in his personal life and did not want to change anything.
creation of drawings based on the silver needle technique
From time to time, the painter traveled to central Europe, visited different cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. In the early 1780s, he became interested in the creation of drawings based on the silver needle technique and sold such works to numerous fans for good money. After 1800, the painter painted 4 landscapes, which, like the portrait genre, were enthusiastically received by the public.
The last years of the master’s life coincided with the tumultuous events of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, although the French authorities respected the authoritative painter and never offended him. For many years of a successful career, the painter has amassed a decent fortune, which went to his children. On June 22, 1813, Anton Graff died in Dresden at the age of 76 and was buried in the local cemetery. Unfortunately, the grave of the great artist has not survived to this day.
The most famous paintings by Anton Graff
It is very difficult to choose the best from the huge number of beautiful portraits painted by the painter. And yet, some of the most famous paintings by Anton Graff include:
- “The Portrait of Esther Charlotte Brandes in the Role of Ariadne” (1776) is the first ceremonial image of an actress in a stage image in the history of German painting. Unfortunately, only a copy of this painting has survived to this day.
- “Portrait of Frederick the Great” (1781) is a work that the great master created from sketches made during military parades. The Prussian ruler categorically refused to pose, so Graff had to paint a portrait in “field” conditions for 5 years.
- “Portrait of Friedrich Schiller” (1791) is a work that the master corrected and reworked many times, but still achieved the desired result. This picture, according to Graff himself, was at first his greatest grief, and then became his most beloved.
- “Elbe in the morning near Blausewitz above Dresden” (1800) is one of four landscapes created by the artist. This work had a huge impact on the work of another great German painter Caspar David Friedrich (Caspar David Friedrich).
Anton Graff is one of the greatest German artists of all time. And in terms of the number of portraits of famous compatriots (more than 800), he has no equal in the entire world of painting.