Pilgrim at the Gate, 1827
Karl Blechen (German, 1798–1840)
Lithograph, second state of two; image 11 1/8 x 7 7/8 in. (28.4 x 20 cm), sheet 19 1/4 x 13 1/2 in. (49 x 34.2 cm)
Janet Lee Kadesky Ruttenberg Fund, in honor of Colta Ives, 2007 (2007.225)
A pilgrim looks up from his book to gaze into the distance as brilliant sunshine streams into the shadowed structure where he rests. This tranquil scene is the most delicate and subtle of Karl Blechen's prints, an early work by the painter and draftsman whose prolific career lasted only a brief fifteen years. Blechen created some fifty etchings and lithographs during his lifetime, and these are among his rarest works. He produced this lithograph for a portfolio published in 1827 by the artists' group the Berlinischer Künstlerverein. That year, he left a job as a designer of stage sets at the Königstadt Theater in Berlin to embark on a career as an independent artist. Given his experience, the prominence he gave here to the evocative setting seems hardly surprising.
Blechen's imagery is indebted to the Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, whom he probably met when he visited Dresden in 1823. Yet except for the crumbling building and the figure looking away from the viewer, this sunny scene is decidedly different in tone from Friedrich's moody, moonlit depictions. The influence of such dark romantic imagery recurs in others of Blechen's works, but here the atmosphere is remarkably bright and uplifting.