HANS MAKART
Salzburg 1840 – 1884 Vienna
“Back Act”

Around 1870/75
Oil on canvas
32,5 x 47,5 cm

Hans Makart wasted his outstanding abilities not only for many-figure populated giant canvases and for no less respectful portraits. He also scattered them in small, all the more precious coin – as sketch, study or etude. In addition to his penchant for the grandiose, there is a no less pronounced tendency toward the intimate in his painting. The looseness, even fragrance of the execution was always perceived as an advantage over the stricter style of the main works. One drawback is that in these small formats, which could be called splinters of Makart’s Gesamtkunstwerk, there is usually no signature – as in the present small nude painting,

If it were not an ultimately too general feature, one could already see in the back view an indication of Makart’s authorship, because he liked to use the deviation from the “show side”, be it in the nude or in the portrait, as a means of art. Another typical Makart characteristic is that the artist even introduces a motif of movement into the classically resting position of his model, namely the stretching of the right arm, although he actually reaches into the indefinite – the static was not Makart’s element. This motif is repeated – quite casually, but nevertheless – in the branches of the vegetal background, thus establishing a close connection between the figure and the surrounding nature. The reclining figure is thus identified as a creature of nature, interwoven with its plant environment, which in Makart’s work always has something artificial about it.

Very typical for his painting is the almost homely warm sepia tone of the whole picture space, here in transitions from the reddish ground to the autumnal pallor of the background. This uniform color mood is only “disturbed” by the cold sky blue breaking through the branches, which Makart uses – as in so many works – as a dramatic color effect against the homogeneous brown tone.

The almost exaggeratedly supple curves of the nude could be explained by an eroticizing effect, but could also be cited as an indication of the alleged “bonelessness” of Makart’s conception of the body – an argument often used against Makart, but which must lose out at this point in view of the immensely coherent composition.

There is actually nothing about this painting that does not speak for Makart, and there is therefore no doubt that it is a work by his hand; a cabinet piece that, despite the small format, has a rounded character in itself, is a work in its own right. As far as the chronology is concerned, the years 1870/75 are the most likely.

Nicholas Schaffer