Born in the small town of Hadamar, Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach drew the attention of the art world with his utopian, visionary take on Symbolism.
This artist of German origin theorised, professed and doggedly pursued his own personal cultural revolution, which included a lifestyle in complete harmony with nature, the rejection of monogamy, an allergy to any form of religion and the adoption of a strict vegetarian diet. After his project for establishing a commune in Vienna fell through, he moved to the isle of Capri which instantly became the ideal site for him to put his philosophy into practice.
To escape the attacks of the press and the bourgeois bigotry that held sway in his day, Diefenbach fled Germany in the early 1900s, spending short periods of time on the shores of Lake Garda, then in Cairo and in Trieste. He spent the last years of his life in Capri, where a museum dedicated to his life and work opened in the Certosa di San Giacomo in 1975.
His eccentricity marked a significant moment in the cultural history of the isle of Capri: as in the case of the work under discussion here, he produced views of Capri and natural subjects in his large paintings which, with their visionary symbolism, denote a given space so powerfully that that space cannot help but have a strong emotional impact on the spectator.
One of the crucial factors that makes his work so interesting and so eye-catching is his use of extremely poor materials, ranging from oil and bitumen to ash, earth and so on, that allowed him to forge an ever firmer and deeper bond between his masterly depiction of the natural landscape and the elements of which that landscape is made up.
In his work, a cosmic sense of nature and an almost mystic sense of the infinite expressed in sublime and mysterious hues clearly convey the magical-cum-religious function that Diefenbach assigned to painting.
The painting presented here, Capri, Monte Solaro at Sunset, portrays the island’s highest point, from which the obsever enjoys a virtually endless view: the isle of Capri in its entirety below, Mount Vesuvius across the water with the Bay of Naples and the Peninsula of Sorrento, and in the distance, the mountains of Calabria, the Appennines and the Amalfi Coast with the small Galli islets.
Painted in c. 1900, the picture faithfully reflects Diefenbach’s personality and creative vein. The strong, contrasting colours of an intense sunset and a view of which the painter was especially fond are here fused through the German painter’s Symbolist and naturalistic spirit.