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Carl Morgenstern

* 1811 – † 1893

Cadenabbia on Lake Como

Oil on canvas
40 cm63 cm

Signed and dated at bottom right: C. Morgenstern 1866

Cadenabbia on Lake Como

Carl Morgenstern visited the Lago di Como in 1864, when he accepted an invitation from his friend, the Frankfurt businessman Georg Seufferheld,1 to join him at his little villa in Cadenabbia. This stylish town on the idyllic western shore of the lake was to become very popular during the Belle Époque. The two friends, accompanied by Seufferheld’s nephew, went on various expeditions together, including one to the Via Mala, which Morgenstern, knowing he would not be travelling much again, was eager to see just one last time.2 Seufferheld later bequeathed his villa to Alexander Andreae,3 and a drawing of 1872 by Morgenstern’s pupil, Toni Andreae (fig. 1),4 gives us an impression of how it must have looked. The domicile had the advantage of affording easy access to the lakeside towns of Bellagio and Varenna, both of them destinations of choice for Morgenstern when hunting for motifs. An unfortunately undated watercolour (fig. 2) that turned up on the art market in 2008 reproduces a view of the lakeshore as seen from a boat which is almost identical with our painting – even down to the fishing boats. Presumably the watercolour was produced in situ, unlike the painting, and perhaps was intended as a preparatory study right from the start.5 Morgenstern is known to have painted his paintings in his Frankfurt studio, working on the basis of his numerous travel sketches, many of which also specify the exact time of day and the various colours to be used. A direct comparison shows that for the painting, he revised the colours of his soberly realistic study and besides selecting a radiant blue for the lake had the villas on the promenade glow in the warm sunlight. The painting is well done and a fine example of Morgenstern’s painting of the 1860s. Around mid-century, his view of nature took on an increasingly idealistic, romantic look, generated by means of softer incident light and avoidance of all sharp contrasts. The distinctive shape of the massif rising up steeply behind the houses along the lakeshore identifies the place as Cadenabbia, even if that location has at times been doubted, as is evident from the list of place names on the back.6 While it is true that none of the houses could be matched with the architecture of the surviving buildings, Cadenabbia had of course changed quite drastically over the years. Inge Eichler, who has studied Morgenstern’s landscapes in some depth and compared them with the locations they purport to show, was among the first to realize that while the painter produced topographically accurate drawings, watercolours, and oil studies in situ, these served him merely as a basis for compositions fleshed out with inventions of his own.7

  1. Georg Seufferheld (1813–1874) was an alderman of the city of Frankfurt am Main and a member of the founding committee of Frankfurt Zoo.

  2. Cf. Bettina Hausler, “Morgensterns letzte Schweizreise 1864,” in exh. cat. Carl Morgenstern und die Landschaftsmalerei seiner Zeit, Museum Giersch Frankfurt a. M. 2011, Petersberg 2011, p. 211.

  3. Alexander Andreae was the scion of the Andreaes of Frankfurt, a Hugenot family related to Morgenstern, who as bankers, businessmen, and lawyers played an important role in the commercial and cultural life of the city.

  4. Toni Andreae, Villa Seufferheld, pencil on laid paper, 14.5 x 22 cm, signed at bottom left: Toni Andreae, labelled at bottom right: Villa Seufferheld, Lago di Como 1872. J. P. Schneider jr., Frankfurt am Main.

  5. Carl Morgenstern, Cadenabbia on Lake Como, pencil and watercolour, 28.5 x 46 cm, Kunsthaus Lempertz, Auction 929, Lot No. 01476:

  6. Several places are named on the stretcher: Bellagio, Cadenabbia, Menaggio, and Varenna.

  7. Eichler, Inge, “Schweizer Landschaftsdarstellungen des Frankfurter Malers Carl Morgenstern,” in Zeitschrift für Schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte, 31, Zurich 1974, p. 66.

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