back to overview

Eugen Bracht

* 1842 – † 1921

Rocky Terrain in Ticino, study

Oil on canvas

Labelled by the artist on the stretcher: 2136 ( the number in Bracht`s own list of works)

The rainy summer of 1863 led Eugen Bracht to embark on a second study tour of Switzerland. It was then that he accompanied Carl Friedrich Harveng (1832–1874) “for the first time, by accident so to speak, over the Alps,” specifically from Linthal in Canton Glarus over the Pragel Pass to Altdorf and from there with the Gotthard post coach to Airolo in Ticino.1 He then proceeded on foot to Bellinzona, whose extensive fortifications – shown here in the middle ground – had served the Duchy of Milan as a last line of defence against the old, Swiss-held Alpine passes, the St. Gotthard and the San Bernardino, since the fifteenth century.2 Spread out at the viewer’s feet before the walls is an area of rocky terrain and paved paths, populated by groups of figures bathed in dazzling sunlight. Beyond the promontory are the wooded slopes of the mountain opposite, silhouetted against the light, and thereafter the haze of the far distance. The study evokes a powerful sense of relief – and not just on account of the fine weather. Much is no more than sketched in and the spontaneous brushstrokes leave a lot to the viewer’s imagination. Even more fascinating is the carefree manner in which in the foreground, especially, pigment sits alongside pigment, pushed apart or together only on the canvas in the act of painting itself – soft ochre versus bold caput mortuum and all sorts of derivatives of hard white and Prussian blue. As if in counterpoint, the background hues are all harmoniously scaled. Studying such “radiances against the light,” wrote Bracht in his memoirs, “discovering changes in local colour with completely new materials on my palette,” and feeling himself to be a “seer of colours” was “infinitely delightful.”3 But his taste was not widely shared, and the resulting self-doubt led to a temporary lapse in his career. Bracht had grown up in Darmstadt and found his first teachers there, most notably August Lucas. In 1859 he switched to Johann Wilhelm Schirmer in Karlsruhe, and in 1861 to Düsseldorf in the vague hope that he might find a place in Hans Frederik Gude’s academy. When nothing came of that plan, however, he tried to make his way on his own. He eventually abandoned his studies in 1864, but on Gude’s advice returned to them ten years later. Mellowed by age, Bracht later recalled how “those fine studies of the last trip (undertaken) in 1863 […] – they were ahead of their times.” Among them was probably our painting, too.4

  1. Theilmann, Rudolf, Die Lebenserinnerungen von Eugen Bracht. Karlsruhe 1973, pp. 89–90.

  2. Grosskinsky, Manfred, Eugen Bracht – Leben und Werk, in Eugen Bracht. Leben und Werk, exh. cat. Museum Giersch 2005, Frankfurt a. M. 2005, p. 162.

  3. Theilmann 1973, pp. 153–154.

  4. Theilmann 1973, p. 154 and, for a reference to our study, p. 265, note 413.

back to overview