Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic play is considered to be his masterpiece and one of the greatest works of German literature. The work concerns the fate of the scholar Faust and his quest for the true essence of life, "was die Welt im Innersten zusammenhält."
This fixation leads the devil, in Goethe’s version represented by Mephistopheles, to wager he can satisfy all of Faust's desires.
The first appearance of Goethe’s work in print was Faust, a Fragment
, published in 1790. He completed a preliminary version of what is now known as Part One
in 1806 and its publication in 1808 was followed by the revised 1828–29 edition, the last to be edited by Goethe himself.
Goethe finished writing Part Two in the last years of this life before he died in 1832. The present series of plates follows an early publication which uses engravings by the German painter and draughtsman Friedrich August Moritz Retzsch (1779-1857). In 1821, a partial English translation of Faust Part One was published anonymously by the London publisher Thomas Boosey and Sons, which also used the illustrations of Retzsch.Friedrich August Moritz Retzsch
Upon visiting Retzsch in 1834 the English commentator Mrs Jameson would later write "I saw in Retzsch's atelier many things novel, beautiful and interesting... There was, on a small panel, the head of an angel smiling. He said he was often pursued by dark fancies, haunted by melancholy foreboding, desponding over himself and his art", "and he resolved to create an angel for himself, which should smile upon him out of heaven." Mrs Jameson wrote that Retzsch’s painting of the angel was radiant in the spirit of joy, though looking upon it was ‘enough to exorcise a whole legion of blue devils.’1
Retzsch was born in Dresden. He joined the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts in 1798
copying the pictures in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie. He was made a member of the academy in 1817 and a professor in 1824. Among his earliest commissions was when the Cotta publishing house asked him to produce twenty-six illustration plates for Goethe's Faust. He produced plates for other well-known literary works, most notably Friedrich Schiller's Lied von der Glocke
of 1799, the Ballads of Gottfried August Bürger and works by Shakespeare.
Johann Christoph Roentgen was employed by K.P.M in 1814. He had previously worked at Dagoty's factory in Paris for five years and to provide proof of this in his application he sent an extract from Morgenblatt
of 1808 in which he is mentioned. In a passage reproduced by Wittwer, op. cit.,
he was referred to as being not only Dagoty's favourite assistant but also a personal friend.
A series of twenty-four plates painted with the story of Faust after Retzsch's engravings, was sent as a gift to Prince Carl of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1785-1837), as two groups for Christmas in 1821 and 1822. He was the son of Charles II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1741-1816) and his second wife Charlotte of Hesse-Darmstadt (1755-1785). On the 24th May 1819 the Prince had played the role of Mephisto in the Berlin premiere to great acclaim,2
a performance was later given at Schloss Monbijou. Twelve plates from this series were sold in an anonymous sale at Christie's South Kensington, 2nd October 1997, lots 146-157 and are now in the collection of Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin. This series differs from the present group in the gilded borders and it is probable that the plate with a full gilded border in the present lot originally belonged to the Prince Carl gift. A series of engravings by Retzsch from 1820 is still preserved in the KPM archive.
A plate showing a scene of Gretchen, numbered XVI, which most likely once belonged to the present series of plates, was sold at Lempertz, Berlin, 2nd May 2015, lot 153.
 Mrs Jameson, Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad, London, 1834, Vol. I, pp. 128-129.
 Dr. Samuel Wittwer, op. cit., p. 73.