Alexandre Calame (Vevey, Switzerland 1810-1864 Menton, France)

Four en ruine

Graphite with black chalk on off-white wove paper
9 ½ × 13 inches (24.1 × 33 cm)
Signed, in graphite, lower center
Inscribed and dated, in black ink, lower left: 1 Aout 1838 /
Au Coin, au dessus de Collonges / Four en ruine
Inscribed, in graphite, lower left: G

Alexandre Calame was born in 1810, the son of a marble carver.  At the age of ten, Calame lost sight in one eye due to an accident.  The family moved to Geneva where the young Alexandre became a bank clerk.  At age sixteen his father died and he assumed the role as provider for himself and his mother.  As his father had incurred many debts, the young man had to increase his earnings and found work hand-coloring prints of Alpine landscapes for various printmakers.  Due to the kindness of one of his employers, Calame was given a stipend to study with the artist François Diday (1802-1877), an artist who specialized in Alpine landscapes.   In 1829, Calame began creating his own watercolors and in 1830 his first paintings.  In 1834 he married Amelie Muntz-Berger, a pupil of Franz Liszt.  Calame first exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1835 and made his first trip to the French capital in 1837.

In Paris Calame studied the work of Jules Dupré (1811-1889) and Théodore Rousseau (1812-1867), two renowned French landscape artists.  On a trip to The Netherlands, he became engrossed in Dutch landscape painting, especially the work of Jacob van Ruisdael (1628/29-1682). His study of other artists specializing in the landscape helped him refine his skills and allowed him to concentrate on the various aspects of the view at hand.  His fame broadened during the late 1830s and 1840s, so much so that one of his paintings was purchased by King Louis Philippe for the French State at the Salon of 1841 and another at the Universal Exposition of 1855 by Napoleon III.  He worked incessantly, frequently becoming ill due to overwork, and died of pleurisy in 1864.

Many major museums throughout the United States and Europe have works by Calame in their permanent collections, including The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Cleveland Museum; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; the Louvre, Paris; and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, to name just a few.

Calame produced many landscape paintings, drawings, etchings and lithographs during his career. These two graphite and black chalk drawings may well be studies for future lithographs.  Calame carefully observes the view before him, dividing the picture plane into foreground, middle ground and far background.  The artist, however, renders the scene in free and loose lines, thus accentuating the movement of the branches and shrubs.  He renders the volume of the rocks in the foreground of both images with swift, firm strokes and the diagonal progression of the group on the path in La Pierre aux bois in soft outlines.  Both drawings demonstrate that Alexandre Calame was a master of the landscape.