Angiola Canevari-Giulia Fusconi, Pittori minori del secondo Ottocento: il paesaggista italo-svizzero Hermann Corrodi (1844-1905), in Bollettino d’Arte, n. 73, May–June 1992, pp. 43- 68 Paolo Emilio Trastulli, Hermann Corrodi (1844-1905), Accademico di San Luca, in Strenna dei Romanisti, 2012, pp.581-595 Teresa Sacchi Lodispoto, Sabrina Spinazzè, Hermann Corrodi. Italy and the East, Introduction by Gianluca Berardi, Rome 2016.
This painting, entitled Sunset on the Nile from a private collection in Rome from which it has never emerged before now, represents a crucial addition to the corpus of works by the painter Hermann Corrodi, one of the most significant vedutisti of the 19th century, by virtue of its painterly quality, its subject matter and its exceptional size.
The son of Salomon Corrodi, a painter of Swiss origin, Hermann was born in 1844 in Frascati, where his family, who lived in Rome, often spent their holidays. A unique source for the details of his life is an article which Corrodi penned himself in 1895: H. Corrodi, in Neujahrsblätter der Künstlergesellschaft (Zurich), 1895, pp. 6-43. From this source we learn that he and his younger brother Arnold were trained by their father to paint from life, and that he went on to complete his studies in Geneva, where the two young artists frequented the workshop of Alexandre Calame, and at the Accademia di S. Luca in Rome. An intense and sensitive painter of landscapes, he travelled throughout his life, forging ties with the courts and the leading patrons of Europe. In 1872 he travelled with Arnold to Paris, where the two brothers made the acquaintance of Meissonier and Gérôme, from there to London as the guests of Lawrence Alma-Tadema, and on to Munich to visit the international exhibition there. Corrodi won the gold medal at the Universal Exhibition in Vienna in 1873 for a painting depicting a Pinewood. The death of his beloved brother Arnold in 1874 prompted Hermann to suspend his artistic activities, resuming them only two years later when he moved to Rome and began a long series of trips to the Orient which were to make him one of the most celebrated orientialist painters of the second half of the 19th century. He visited Constantinople, Syria and Egypt, producing splendid paintings and a plethora of studies and drawings which also served him as a repertoire when he was back in Rome. His painter’s sensitivity led him to produce pictures characterised by suspended atmospheres, in which the documentary aspect of the view is frequently enriched by an extremely skilled approach to composition and by his painterly acumen as well as by the depiction of events from daily life which impart an epic yet informal quality to his work. Corrodi preferred the elongated, horizontal format (almost invariably 100 x 160 cm) and produced a handful of even larger works, almost all of them for official and international exhibitions. Kaiser Wilhelm II purchased a picture of the Sacred Fountain Before the Mosque of Omar in Jerusalem for his private collection (Künstchronik, 1892–3), while several view of Cyprus entered the English royal family’s private collections, where they remain to this day in the company of numerous works on Italian themes such as a View of the Italian Coast and a View of the Roman Campagna, Queen Victoria on the Terrace of Villa Palmieri, a View of the Lagoon at Chioggia, Mermaids in a Grotto in Capri and a Bather. Thus we may be certain that Corrodi presented this picture of a Sunset on the Nile at some major international exhibition, not only on account of its exceptional size which makes it one of the painter’s unquestioned masterpieces, but also, indeed above all, on account of its superb painterly quality, of its meticulous attention to detail, of the large number of figures whom we can perceive on the river bank to the right of the composition, of the vastness and beauty of the subject chosen, of the careful distribution of colour and of the masterly handling of shadow and backlight in the foreground which enhance the luminosity of the background and draw the eye into the vibrant reds of the sunset and into those wonderful reflections on the boats and the buildings on the water.
The artist has chosen a highly original composition for this painting, affording priority to the stretch of water in the foreground and prompting the observer to immerse himself fully in the scene, allowing himself to be enraptured by the magical sunset. Corrodi here reuses the composition that had brought him such success with his views of Cairo (a particularly striking comparison may be made with a very fine painting now in a private collection depicting Faloukas on the Nile, oil on canvas, 50.5 x 101.9 cm, signed and datelined bottom right: “H. Corrodi Cairo”), with a palm tree on the right, the large, placid stretch of water in the centre and the cityscape on the left. But in our case this is not one of the painter’s several typical depictions of Cairo. We are much further south here, probably in the vicinity of Aswan as suggested by the luxuriant vegetation on the islands in the area and the building atop the hill in the background, which may well be the Monastery of St. Simeon. These works painted on and around the Nile were to prove enormously popular, as we can tell from three very fine and truly majestic paintings now in the Dahesh Museum in New York entitled Campfire by the River: The Kiosk of Trajan at Philae, The Ambush Near Giza and The Departing Caravan, Bethanin. Named an emeritus member of the Accademia di San Luca, where he was teaching, in 1893, Corrodi spent his last years in Rome, where he died in 1905, producing some of the most beautiful and poetic views of the city, including two outstanding versions of a View of Rome from the Tiber at Sunset Taken from the Legnaia di Monte Brianzo, both of them now in private collections.