An Interesting Pair of 18th Century Reverse Glass Paintings Depicting Allegories of Africa and Asia

October 22 2015, 3:30pm

Carlton Hobbs LLC This interesting pair of reverse glass paintings, depicting Africa and Asia, was executed after designs by Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner (1702-1761) and published by Johann Georg Hertel. A set of these prints, reproduced by Jacob Gottlieb Thelott (1708-1760), is in the collection of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (figure 1). Figure 1 Reverse painting on glass is a difficult undertaking because the process, as the name implies, involves applying pigment in reverse to the normal order. Highlights and fine details, which would normally be the finishing touches of a painting, must be put down first, and therefore over-painting and erasing are not possible. The artist was, however, able to place an existing drawing below the glass to use as a guide. “Prints, readily available from engravers, apparently were used as patterns. Some were reproduced in full, while others were cropped to show only a segment, a single figure, or a specific detail.”1 In the case of the present paintings, the main figure and immediate surroundings were used, but they have been set in an invented landscape. Carlton Hobbs LLC The chief centers for the production of reverse glass painting in Germany were at Nuremberg and Augsburg. “In Augsburg, a major center of the graphic arts and printing, accomplished individuals such as Johann Wolfgang Baumgartner, produced exceptional reverse glass paintings. In addition, craftsmen glass artists produced multiple copies of paintings.”2 By 1790, there were twenty artists recorded as producing reverse paintings on glass.3 High demand called for the export of reverse glass paintings to other parts of Europe and as far as North America and the West Indies; religious subjects were quite popular, as were allegories of the Seasons and the Continents. The majority of artists worked anonymously, however, some, like Baumgartner, were well known by name. Figure 2 Although the origins of reverse glass painting in Augsburg are unknown, it is thought to have begun about 1750-1760.4 Attributions to this area are often based on the assumption that identifiable South German work would have naturally come from such a dominant center of the arts.5 That the present paintings are based on engravings by Augsburg artists helps to support this attribution, although prints were distributed throughout the Continent. Figure 3 The present pair of paintings once belonged to a complete set of Continents. An allegory of America, recently in the America art trade but whose whereabouts are now unknown, was almost certainly part of this group (figure 2).