DIETZSCH, Barbara Regina (1706-1783). Sweet William. Watercolor with gouache and gold leaf on vellum. (ca. 2nd and 3rd quarters, 18th century).
Vellum size: 7 x 5 ¾ inches. Frame size: 18 x 15 ½ inches. The Dietzsches were an important family of painters, engravers, and musicians that flourished in Nuremberg during the eighteenth century. The patronage of Dr. Christoph Trew, the great botanist and bibliographer, made Nuremberg one of the foremost centers of botanical art in the world, and the Dietzsch family was one of the most noted of the era. Dietzsch is particularly well known for her marvelous renderings of flowers and fruit in watercolor and gouache. Employed at the court of Nuremberg, she painted primarily in watercolor and gouache and produced extensively for engravers there. Her work was of such outstanding quality that it was used by Trew and the great flower painter Georg Ehret for a number of plates in the Hortus Nitidissimis (1750-86). Indeed, even at the time of its production, Dietzsch’s art was much sought after by collectors in both the Netherlands and England, and it is recorded that some of the best known painters of the time even accepted her works as a form of payment, signaling the type of celebrated reputation she was able to attain within her lifetime—a celebration that has only continued to grow ever since.
Like most of her family's work, Dietzsch's watercolors are often characterized by the use of a black or dark brown ground, and it is partly upon the basis of this that the current attribution has been based. Ehret also occasionally placed his bouquets on a dark background, but these are not nearly as successful as Dietzsch's in making the subject come to life. Various examples of her work can be found in the Broughton Collection at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, England and in each the dark ground is present. What separates the work of Barbara Regina from that of her other family members is the remarkable clarity of depiction and skill in rendering. With unbelievable mastery and stylistic power, Dietzsch overcame contemporary estimations of women's inferiority in the field of art, creating watercolors of distinctive splendor.
This stunning painting of Dianthus barbatus, more familiarly known in English as “Sweet William,” is a dazzling example of Dietzsch’s incredible artistry and keen eye for detail. Also known as “bunch pink” or “bearded pink,” alluding to the glorious coloring of its flowers and perhaps the way its petals’ serrated edges look like they’ve been cut with pinking shears, the Sweet William is a majestic flower, its genus Dianthus coming from the Greek words Dios (“of Zeus”) and anthos (“flower”). While the plant is native to southern Europe and parts of Asia, it was reported as growing wild in Germany by the middle of the 16th century; still, in Dietzsch’s hands the plant is far from common, retaining instead the glorious splendor that belies its regal name. Standing tall and proud, the artist hones in on the romantic simplicity of the plant, a single stalk of which erupts in a small bouquet-like cluster of flowers whose deep fuchsia and violet-rose naturally engender a brilliant juxtaposition with the slightly bluish tinge of their tall green stalks; rendering its likeness on her preferred dark ground, Dietzsch highlights the plant’s rich coloring and imbues its beauty with an intriguing sense of drama and mystery. The great delicacy of her brushwork allows for gentle modulations in color and tone, creating a remarkable sense of texture; this is particularly evident in the dainty stippling of the petals used to evoke the flower’s thin pubescence, or the small bee that lands on a springy lower leaf.
Description provided by Julia Stimac, a specialist in 19th-century art. Julia received her BA from Cornell University and MA from University of Manchester, and she is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Washington. Please contact Julia at 212-628-7625 to arrange a viewing of this work, or come by Arader Galleries at 1016 Madison Avenue, New York.