Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman
Moritz von Schwind
Mister Winter or Father Christmas (Herr Winter), 1840s
Pen and brown ink over pencil
5 3/8 x 5 1/4 in, 13.65 x 13.34 cm (sheet)
Inscriptions: (recto) signature lower right, in pencil: "M. v. Schwind"; (verso) lower right in pencil: "M. v. Schwind"
Provenance: Acquired from Joseph Fach, Franfurt am Main, 1975
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.54
Like other German artists of the nineteenth century—among them Carl Gehrts, whose work is shown in this exhibition—Moritz von Schwind embraced the depiction of fairy tales and folkloric themes. Despite his ambitions to be a fresco painter, von Schwind’s painting career was for the most part unsuccessful, and he turned to illustration to support himself, including the depiction of varied social themes and folklore.1 In this regard, he was fully in accord with the ideals and preoccupations of German Romanticism, in which fairytales and other types of folklore were seen as one of the distinctive forms of German literature and representative of the German common people.2
In the Herman drawing, von Schwind uses energetic pen lines to characterize Herr Winter as he trudges through snow carrying an uprooted fir tree, presumably to be used as a Christmas tree. The old man’s facial features and clothing are described in detail with numerous touches, while the setting is rendered with minimal fluent pen strokes to reveal a village and its church laden with snow. While the signature suggests that this is a finished drawing, its actual function is unclear. It is closely related to a number of von Schwind’s published depictions of Herr Winter, which appeared as wood engravings in the magazines Münchner Bilderbogen and Fliegende Blätter.3 In these illustrations, Herr Winter is not so much characterized as Father Christmas as he is seen as a familiar folkloric figure who brings cold weather and snow in winter.4 He appears in a variety of settings, indoor and out, in one visiting a peasant couple, in another attending a carnival masquerade ball, always bearded and wearing a heavy hooded cloak and mittens: the embodiment of the pleasures and discomforts of winter. In one especially evocative illustration, he is seen carrying a fir tree with candles on its branches, walking alone through a German town at night.5 Herr Winter in the Herman drawing resembles these images, but his beard and hood are drawn differently and he’s missing the crown of ivy leaves seen in the illustrations. This may suggest that it is a later, independent version of one of von Schwind’s most enduring characters.
1. Colin Bailey, "The Drawings of Moritz von Schwind in the Ashmolean Museum," Master Drawings, 13, 1975, 40–98.
2. William Vaughan, German Romantic Painting, New Haven, 1980.
3. Otto Weigman, Schwind: des Meisters Werke, Studdgart, 1906, 256–257. Vaughan, German Romantic Painting, 202.
4. J. Ross Browne, "An American Family in Germany," Harper's Monthly Magazine, 27, 1863, 305–315, esp. 309.
5. Weigman, Schwind, 257, published in Münchner Bilderbogen, 5, 1847.