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Work Portrait of Franz Lang

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Portrait de Franz Lang, de profil à gauche

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Grollemund Hélène

A court painter in Munich, Wilhelm von Kobell was a contributor to the revival of German sensibility wrought by the Sturm und Drang movement. With its bold, pre-Romantic framing, this portrait of his "friend Franz Lang" deep in thought is striking testimony to his achievement.

Intimate and spontaneous

This head and shoulders portrait shows its subject leaning forward as if absorbed in a book and seemingly oblivious of the presence of the artist. So spontaneous that it could have been executed from life, the study points up Kobell's interest in the human figure and the business of drawing. While the work is in the French/European tradition of the portrait of family members and friends, the artist transcends his influences by seizing a quasi-private moment in a way that takes no account of the viewer. The framing puts the emphasis on a psychologically and artistically truthful rendering of a subject identified in a note on the back of the sheet.

Two friends at the court of Munich

Like his contemporary Kobell, Franz Lang (1751-1816) was a native of Mannheim. A trumpeter in the court orchestra there, he settled in Munich, probably in 1778, and worked as a court musician until his death. Appointed Court Painter in Munich in 1792, Kobell moved there the following year and seems to have greatly enjoyed the company of the musician: he made other portraits of him and the two traveled to Bavaria together in the summer of 1797. Kobell had frequented musicians and actors since his youth: in Mannheim his parents had been friends, and sometimes intimates, of the artists drawn to the Palatinate court by its flourishing cultural life.

A gifted portraitist

A prolific painter of battles and landscapes, Kobell was much appreciated by his contemporaries; Goethe owned many of his drawings. Johann Nepomuk Ringsels (1785-1880), personal physician to Ludwig I of Bavaria, says of Kobell in his memoirs that "after drawing all day, he called each evening for a book of blank pages that he covered with still more drawings." His studies and portraits from the period 1786-95 reveal him as one of the most gifted portraitists of his time. Concentrating here on the face of the musician, he brings total mastery to the use of black and red chalk. The drawing probably dates from c. 1794, a judgment confirmed by the subject's clothing. In its mingling of freedom and restraint, the approach to this ardent yet meditative figure is reminiscent of that of two other contemporary portraitists, Gottfried Schadow and Johann Georg von Dillis. Working in Munich, the latter made many portraits at the same time as Kobell. The two never seem to have been in contact but have several points in common: both landscape painters, while young they devoted themselves to the intimate portrait, to which they brought similar techniques. The difference lies above all in the choice of subjects: contrary to Dillis, Kobell preferred the bourgeois or aristocratic members of his circle, whom he thus renders more familiar to us.


Siegfried Wichmann, Wilhelm von Kobell: Monographie und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke (Münchner Forschungen zur Kunstgeschichte), Munich, 1970, plate 254
Emmanuel Starcky, Inventaire général des dessins des Ecoles du Nord: Ecoles allemandes, des Anciens Pays-Bas, flamande, hollandaise et suisse XVe-XVIIIe siècles. Supplement to the inventories published by Frits Lugt and Louis Demonts, Paris, RMN, 1988, entry 42

Technical description

  • Wilhelm von Kobell (Mannheim, 1766-Munich, 1853)

    Portrait of Franz Lang

    c. 1794

  • black and red chalk

    H. 0.246 m; W. 0.193 m

  • Sale, Munich, Karl und Faber, 5-6 December 1967, no. 409; Munich, private collection; Marianne Feilchenfeldt S.A., Zürich; acquired, 1986

    RF 41252

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Inscribed on the back in another hand, in pen and sepia ink: Freund Franz Lang