The Venice Etchings of Malte Sartorius, Germany’s most distinguished practising printmaker, have now achieved classic status. Presented alongside the etchings of Venice created in the eighteenth century by Canaletto and those of Whistler in the century following, Sartorius’ Venice Etchings have provided the subject of the major public exhibition, Venice: Three etchers across three centuries, shown to great acclaim in 2012 at the Veste Coburg Museum, Germany.
Canaletto’s Venice etchings fall into one of two categories, being either precise topographical renderings of fairly broad views or capriccios, exercises of the imagination drawing on classic Venetian elements. With the work of J. McNeill Whistler, mood and atmosphere dominate and the city’s inhabitants are closely observed. For Sartorius, neither the city’s grander architecture nor any aspect of its changing moods are what matters. It is the city’s fabric, its symphony of surfaces and surprises encountered on every corner, mostly at street level, that is important: the intimacy of the functioning city as experienced not by visitors but the city’s inhabitants, mostly in the crisp light of early day when few others are about, observed and caught in the course of very many stays there across all four seasons. In Sartorius’ take on Venice there is little room for the contemplative overviews indulged in by the detached observer less at home in this living labyrinth. Instead, Sartorius leads the viewer into workaday corners of the city such as the repair yard nestling near San Sebastiano where gondolas are refitted alongside vessels laden with produce en route to the markets or down the narrowest calle and sotoportegi, anywhere else surely cul-de-sacs, but here opening as likely as not on to minuscule, undisturbed squares. In these endlessly varied aperçus a fine interplay of light and shade in Sartorius’ masterly command of his idiom animates every subject without ever descending into sentiment or the overly dramatic.
In Sartorius’ meanderings in Venice, the first impression of distance is imperceptibly replaced by a sense of unassuming appreciation, a cherishing of weathered walls, doorways, old paving stones worn by time, the elements, history itself which here and there leaves its mark in the form of a plaque or some obscure architectural fragment dating back to Byzantium or the late Middle Ages – evidence here of Sartorius’ well-known preference, manifested throughout his career, for compositions in which he can focus on raw elements from everyday life, whether seen in a market in China, on the old wooden quays of San Francisco, among fishermen’s huts on an Icelandic shore or in a random cluster of pomegranate husks noticed on a bare sunlit wall in some back yard in Andalucía. In a career of some five decades spanning many developments from an early abhorrence for fashionable abstraction to a political engagement explored in found photographic images, Malte Sartorius has now arrived with his supreme skills at a mastery of distilled observation hinting (in de Chirico’s words) at a ‘metaphysics of everyday life’.
Together with the Venice Etchings, Sartorius has also created several original pencil drawings with Venetian subjects, the majority of these rare pieces from the first Venice cycle now belonging to the Permanent Collection of the Veste Coburg Museum. The artist has also produced a number of still life etchings, the aspect of his work which shows most strongly the influence on him of classic Spanish art, notably the still lifes of Sánches Cotán and Zurbarán.
Malte Sartorius was born in Waldlinden, Germany, 1933 and studied at Göttingen and at Stuttgart Academy of Art under Karl Rössing. A revered teacher of graphic art at Braunschweig College of Art for some forty years, he has held over one hundred one-man exhibitions in public and private galleries in Europe and North America during this period and is the recipient of numerous national and international prizes and awards. Some sixty public collections have acquired Sartorius’ work, including Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Nationalgalerie, Berlin; Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Landesmuseum, Münster; Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva; Library of Congress, Washington; National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi; and Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro. Malte Sartorius has been represented since 1982 by Francis Kyle Gallery where he has held six one-person exhibitions. In 1986, on the occasion of the Ridgeway Exhibition, the Gallery published a limited edition portfolio of his work commissioned for this event, together with a poem by Kevin Crossley-Holland. Besides many comprehensive catalogues, an illustrated monograph on Malte Sartorius by Joachim Kruse was published in 2001 (Verlage Th. Schäfer, Hanover). In 2012 his Venice etchings were first shown publicly in Sartorius – Whistler – Canaletto: Drei Radierer aus drei Jahrhunderten sehen Venedig at the Vest Coburg Museum in Coburg, Germany.
Sartorius inhabits a world of objects, but looks at them in
a different way. His attitudes are influenced by another deep-rooted
German tradition - the feeling for the classic, combined with a
nostalgia for the colour and warmth of the South. He aligns himself
with the great German Neo-classical architect Schinkel, and with
the Goethe who wrote 'Kennst du das Land?'. The aim of those who
work within this particular tradition has always been to obey the
laws of classic measure and proportion, yet at the same time to
imbue the result with passionate feeling.
evokes the South with singular power and purity. And he is also
the master of a poetic quietism, particularly clearly manifested
in the still lifes which combine a Morandi-like play of shapes,
with a feeling for the harmonies of domestic existence, or those
of the unhurried routines of a printmaker's studio. The feeling
for the classic is here merged with an evocation of the values of
everyday life - something perhaps commoner in 17th century art than
it has been in that of our own time.
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