- Eugen Bracht
Rest in the Syrian Desert
- signed and dated Eugen Bracht / Berlin 1883 lower right
- oil on canvas
In this atmospheric work, a group of journeying men make a halt in the desert against the backdrop of a range of barren hills. The figure standing by his camel holds a spear, while his companions lie or sit in a circle talking. With great mastery, Bracht evokes the utter stillness and loneliness of the desert air. The broad viewpoint and photographic illusionism in the painting no doubt owe something to Bracht's work as a panorama painter in the early 1880s, notably on the landscape sections for the Sedan Panorama, commissioned to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War.
Trained in Karlsruhe - where he struck up an enduring friendship with his fellow student Hans Thoma - he studied with Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, the landscape painter who had formerly trained Arnold Böcklin in Düsseldorf. Indeed Bracht started his artistic career painting moody vistas and along with Thoma and Böcklin can be seen as an early champion of Symbolist art in Germany. Bracht had a difficult start in his career, however, and gave up painting for a while to work as a wool merchant.
It was a trip to the Middle East which helped revive Bracht's fortunes as a painter. Starting with Dusk on the Dead Sea, which met with critical acclaim when it was shown at the Berlin Academy in 1881, Orientalist subjects became central to his work and to his success. He was strongly supported by Anton von Werner, the conservative director of the Berlin Academy, who appointed him a teacher there in 1882. But despite being drawn into the establishment, Bracht was also sufficiently his own man and loyal to his artistic principles to break with Werner over the affair of the closure of Edvard Munch's Berlin exhibition in 1892.