Friedrich Wilhelm Crone, Vienna by 1877;
with the auction house C. J. Wawra, n.d.;
Private collection, Vienna, Austria.
Vienna, Annual Exhibition, 1875
Vienna, Akademie fur Bildende Künste, Exhibition, 1877
Friedrich von Boetticher, Malerwerke des Neunzehnten
Jahrhunderts, Vol II/1, 1895 (1941) ed. P. 495, no. 11.
Franz Seraph Russ was a successful portrait and genre painter in Vienna during
the second half of the 19th century. The son of Franz Russ, a noted portrait
painter in his own right, he was born in 1844 and studied at the Vienna
Academy under Director Christian Ruben and with Hans Makart. While most of
his career was spent in Vienna, Russ appears to have been in Paris, based on his
Vienna exhibition records, from about 1882-1888. He maintained a studio in
Montmarte at 9 rue Duperré and is known to have exhibited in the Paris Salon of
1887 with a Portrait of Madame Deloye . In Paris he was thought to have
associated with Charles-Lucien Leandre, and Maurice Eliot who had a workshop
at the nearby rue Houdon. Other than his Parisian sojourn, the artist appears to
have been primarily active in Vienna, exhibiting there from 1868 on.
Girl Playing the Greek Double Pipe was exhibited (along with Lute player and
Female Singer) in the Vienna Academy exhibition of 1877. The two works were
of a similar size and both noted to be owned by Friedrich W. Crone. Crone died
in 1895 and the pair may have been split up after his death. Based on a
fragmentary label attached to the stretcher, it appears that this work was at
auction with the firm C. J. Wawra sometime between 1905 and 1930 with an
annotation of a Dr. Hathi, but it is not clear if he was the seller or buyer.
Russ’ early works seem to be straight academic history paintings with titles such
as Edith Finding the Body of Harold on the Battlefield at Hastings, 1868 and
Marie Antoinette’s Last Private Conversation with Her Mother, the Empress
Maria Theresia. 1871. After that his output primarily consists of numerous
portraits and various genre works set in gardens with nymphs and musicians.
One suspects the influence of Hans Makart in his selection of subject matter.
The present work certainly reflects the influence of Makart stylistically,
specifically his decoration Agriculture, circa 1871 for the Dumba room now
housed in the Belvedere, Vienna (fig.1). The areas of sky peaking through the
foliage, the assemblage of children and young women all presage Russ’s slightly
With its use of color, classical pastoral subject, and senous style, Russ’ work
recalls sixteenth century Venetian painting and particularly those of Titian,
Tintoretto, and Veronese. Although it looks like a Romantic idyll, Girl Playing
the Greek Double Pipe, is clearly an allegory of the ages of man. At the right we
find four children casually lolling about under a thicket listening to the young
girl’s tune. In the center, the main figure is in the full flowering of youth. She is
presented at an angle to the picture plane kneeling and resting on her heels while
diligently playing her pipes. She wears a variation of a Greek chiton dress that is
open on one side and falls off her shoulder provocatively exposing her right
breast. To the left, almost entirely in shadow, we find a balding, bearded
downcast old man resting against the base of a tree. He reaches down and picks
at an assortment of fresh fruit, perhaps contemplating on the adage of what is
ripe shall soon rot. The arc of life is presented in a compositional demi-lune; the
children are awaking from their slumber and emerging from the darkness, youth
takes center stage and is in bathed in full light, while old age quietly fades back
into the shadows.
Here Russ is engaging in a manner of typological symbolism. The figure of the
old man is not really Bacchic, but rather harkens back to the protective, reclining
river gods found in the work of Tiepolo. The girl, with her profile set against the
lighter background of the sky, recalls the story of the Corinthian maiden,
Dibutades only in this case, she is the subject, not the shepherd. And the
children function as the putti to lend an air of myth to the scene. It is a scene not
related to a specific text, but symbolically evokes a narrative that anticipates the
work of artists such as Arnold Böcklin and Hans Thoma.
The role of Romanticism in German and Austrian visual arts became marginal
after 1830, only to be revived around 1870 by a group of artists known as the
Deutsch-Römer (German Romans), whose lyrical style and stories from legend
could be traced back to the art of the early Romantics. Arnold Böcklin, Anselm
Feuerbach and Hans von Marées each depicted images evocative of a bygone
age, drawing on fables and myths as a source of motivation, much as the early
Romantics had done.
Russ’ 1875 Girl playing the Greek Double Pipe is a product of this Deutsch-
Römer movement and much like the work of Böcklin, Feuerback and Thoma,
may be understood as Proto-Symbolist. Toward the end of the nineteenth
century, a number of German and Austrian artists became increasingly
influenced by the French and Belgian Symbolist movement which, in turn, had
been inspired by this slightly earlier revival of German Romanticism.