“Forest View with a Woman Sketching” by Johann Georg von Dillis

by mitchellgallery


Johann Georg von Dillis (1759-1841), Forest view with a Woman Sketching, 1790’s, watercolor over graphite, Thaw Collection, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 1998.27.

Johann Georg von Dillis was a German painter, who lived during the same period as the subjects of the last two posts, Catel and Turner. Dillis, however, is distinct from these two in that he was not a professional artist but worked mainly as a curator for several galleries in Munich. While his contemporaries would travel through Europe to paint romantic landscapes, or views of historic monuments, von Dillis was mainly constrained to working around home. This allowed him to show a different side of nature than what Turner and Catel would, for the everyday landscape of Upper Bavaria is not as awe-inspiring as that or Lurleiberg or Vesuvius.

What the past two blogs have helped me to understand is that Turner and Catel were drawn to their particular scenes because they saw in them the idea that these forces of nature—the rocks of Lurleiberg, or the doom of Vesuvius—dwarfed man. We become insignificant, as we may be swept up by mere accident at any time; and this becomes a kind of aesthetic lure, similar to that we feel at viewing a tragedy as has already been suggested. This lure of tragic nature took form for Catel as a reminder of an historical fact, and for Turner as an immediate terror. We see in von Dillis’ scene a departure from these views; rather, a turn to a peaceable nature, and one from which we can benefit.

The most striking part of this watercolor is the woman. Von Dillis has chosen to give her no color and surround her with the darker shade of the trees, which has the effect of making her the whitest object in the piece. In classical watercolor, white is not used but is depicted by the absence of color. In this watercolor, he uses this effect to create both the shade of the woman and the effect of sunlight through the trees. This choice can bring us to two understandings of von Dillis’ view of nature. First, we notice that the woman stands out prominently from the rest of the scene. She is not dwarfed by the rest of the watercolor, as are the figures in both the previous two works. They have become subsumed in the terrifying edifices and prominent reminders; she is small in comparison, but is not lost in the forest. Second, we can associate her with the sunlight. In doing so she seems to become a part of one aspect of the landscape—the sunlight. Is this association showing us that she is somehow transcending over nature? Von Dillis has given us a depiction of nature in which we may see the beneficial side of our relationship to it. We are not merely lost in the awe, but can gain benefit from venturing into it.


This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw  Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers        Charitable Trust.

—Will Harrington, St. John’s College Student (A20)