Heinrich Schwemminger – Three Drawings

Heinrich Schwemminger
Vienna 1803 – 1884 Vienna

Study of a Woman from Cervaro, 1839
Graphite, brush and watercolor on cream watercolor paper. 258 x 182 mm. | 10-15 x 7-15 in.

Study of a Pifferaro, 1840
Graphite on cream wove paper. Signed and dated in lower right corner. 287 x 215 mm. | 11-516 x 8-716 in.

Study of a Dozing Woman from Albano, 1840
Graphite and white chalk heightening on gray wove paper. 265 x 181 mm. | 10-410 x 7-110 in.

Heinrich Schwemminger, born into a family of decorative artists, established a reputation as a painter of portraits and narrative scenes. He studied in Vienna at the Akademie der bildenden Künste, and committed himself to history painting in 1823. He was awarded the Gundel Prize in 1829 and the Reichel Prize in 1833. In the early 1830s he went to Munich, where he befriended Moritz von Schwind and worked in his circle. In 1837 he went to Rome on a government stipend and remained there until 1842.

These three drawings were done during this stay in Italy. Rome and the surrounding countryside provided ample subjects, less for their landscape value than for their visually striking inhabitants. The watercolor is of a woman from Cervaro, a town in southern Lazio. Schwemminger has taken great care to show the details of her costume – the two-colored fringe of her overskirt, the differences in the orange reds and the blue reds, the quilting of her apron top. The other drawings, while without color, are annotated with memory aids about color and fabric. The Albano model has her eyes closed, showing the tiredness that overcomes people who are to be still and pose.

Schwemminger dated all three of the drawings. The numbers denoting day, month, and year are stacked, making the date look like an arithmetic problem. The drawing of the pifferaro, or shepherd bagpiper, shows the date of 3 January 1840: this date is of interest, coming as it does just three days before 6 January, i.e. Twelfth Night or Epiphany, which celebrates the adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi and Shepherds. The rural musician was probably in Rome, playing for tips during the holidays, a custom that continues to this day. The shepherd’s shoes are made of leather folded around his foot and fastened with leather straps. Cioce, as these are called, were commonly worn in southern Lazio and because of this, that area became known as Ciociaria.

These three drawings come from an album that was taken apart in the 1990s. Several other drawings from the group are now in major museum collections in Great Britain and the United States, among them the Ashmolean Museum, the British Museum, the Milwaukee Museum of Art, the Yale University Art Gallery, and the Cummer Museum in Jacksonville, Florida.

In 1842 Schwemminger returned to Austria, and in 1843 he became Kustos (Curator) at the Vienna Academy, and, in 1849, Professor. Between 1857 and 1874 he was Leiter (Director). As Kustos he won recognition for his reinstallation of the collection, and in 1866 he published a catalogue (Verzeichnis der Gemälde-Sammlung der k. k. Akademie der bildenden Künste in Wien). Schwemminger worked on murals in the Vienna State Opera and the chapel of the regional insane asylum (Landesirrenanstalt) in Vienna. He also prepared lithographs for Rudolph Weigel’s Die Werke der Meister in ihren Handzeichnungen (Leipzig, 1865). A relation by marriage to Franz Schubert, Schwemminger was a fixture in the artistic world of mid-century Vienna.

Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon 1815-1950 Online-Edition und Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon ab 1815 (2. überarbeitete Auflage – online, © 2003-2011), s.v. Heinrich Schwemminger, Ferdinand Schubert

Ursula Mayr-Harting, “Three Drawings by Heinrich Scwhemminger”(1803-1884), The Ashmolean, 31, Christmas 1996, pp. 13ff.

Friedrich von Boetticher, Malerwerke Des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts, Beitrag Zur Kunstgeschichte, Dresden: F. v. Boetticher, 1891.