Gallery of prints for sale

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Alfred Rethel’s pair of wood-engravings, “Death the Friend” and “Death the Avenger”, 1851


Alfred Rethel (1816–1859)

“Der Tod als Freund” (Death the Friend), 1851, published by Julius Buddeus (fl.1830s–52) and Hugo Leopold Friedrich Heinrich Bürkner (1818–97), block cut by Richard Julius Jungtow (1828–[after]1851), printed by Breitkopf and Härtel (fl.1719–1897).

Wood-engraving on wove paper
Size: (sheet) 50.8 x 37.9 cm; (image borderline) 30.5 x 27.5 cm
Lettered within image with artist's initials and “J. Jungtow”, below the image, with title, production and publication details: “Herausgegeben aus der Akademie der Holzschneidekunst von H. Bürkner in Dresden” and “Erschienen bei Ed. Schulte (J.Buddeus'sche Buch- und Kunsthandl. in Düsseldorf.” and “Druck von Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig”.

Manteuffel 1926 25 (iib) (Kurt Zoege von Manteuffel 1926, “Alfred Rethel ... mit einem ... kritischen Verzeichnis der Bilddrucke”, Hamburg)

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“Death tolling the church bells for the aged man seated on the right; stairs to left; view into the distance with setting sun in the background. 1851 Wood-engraving”

The curator of the BM also offers the following comment:
“Edward Burne-Jones greatly admired Rethel and wanted to produce '100.000 woodcuts as big as "Death the Friend" or bigger, (G.Burne-Jones, vol I, London, 1993, p. 255) cf Bartrum: 'Dürer and his Legacy', 2002, cat. 273”

Condition: well-printed impression with full margins (as published) in excellent condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, abrasions, significant stains or foxing, nevertheless, there is a dot-like mark that is visible in the margin at upper right but I suspect that this may be a natural flaw in the paper rather than a stain).

I am selling this famous wood-engraving along with “Death the Avenger” for the combined total cost of AU$400 for the pair of prints (currently US$313.50/EUR262.43/GBP232.22 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested these masterpieces of wood-engraving, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

Both prints have been sold


Images of death are often fraught with the macabre figure of the grim reaper with his hideous scythe causing havoc among mere mortals. This superb wood engraving, however, is very different. It reveals a rare serene scene of the imminent death of an elderly gentleman resting in an armchair near a window overlooking the setting sun as the figure of death—this time without his scythe—marks the gentleman’s passing by ringing a bell announcing his final evening prayer.







Alfred Rethel (1816–1859)

Der Tod als Erwürger - Erster Auftritt der Cholera auf einem Maskenball in Paris 1831” (Death the Strangler/Avenger—The first outbreak of cholera at a masked ball in Paris 1831), 1851, published by Julius Buddeus (fl.1830s–52) and Hugo Leopold Friedrich Heinrich Bürkner (1818–97), block cut by Gustav Richard Steinbrecher (fl.1828–48).

Wood-engraving on wove paper
Size: (sheet) 50.8 x 37.5 cm; (image borderline) 31.2 x 27.6 cm
Lettered with title, production and publication details: “Herausgegeben aus der Akademie der Holzschneidekunst von H. Bürkner in Dresden” and “Erschienen bei Ed. Schulte (J.Buddeus'sche Buch- und Kunsthandl. in Düsseldorf.” and “Druck von Breitkopf und Härtel in Leipzig”.

Manteuffel 1926 24.III (Kurt Zoege von Manteuffel 1926, “Alfred Rethel ... mit einem ... kritischen Verzeichnis der Bilddrucke”, Hamburg)

The British Museum offers the following description of this print:
“In the centre, Death personified, holding two bones as if he was playing the violin; surrounding him, the bodies of three dead people lying on the floor; in the top left corner, a group of musicians leaving the room; in the background to right; Cholera personified, dressed in Egyptian fancy dress seated on stairs. 1851 Wood-engraving”

Condition: well-printed impression with full margins (as published) in excellent condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, abrasions, significant stains or foxing, nevertheless, there is a small scattering of dot staining that is visible verso).

I am selling this famous wood-engraving along with “Death the Friend” for the combined total cost of AU$400 for the pair of prints (currently US$313.50/EUR262.43/GBP232.22 at the time of this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested these masterpieces of wood-engraving, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.


Unlike the previous print, "Death the Friend", the image here fits more with the tradition of showing the havoc reaped by the grim figure of death. As the inscribed title of the print advises, the subject of the image is about the first outbreak of cholera in Paris at a masked ball in 1831. Although the figure of death is portrayed as a somewhat sensitive violinist playing bones instead of a violin, to my eyes, the full horror of the scene is evoked by the juxtaposition of this figure’s calm elegance—note the graceful, perhaps even sexy, Beyoncé-like position of the forward foot—set against the turmoil of the distressed fleeing guests.

Regarding Rethel’s choice of subject in this and the previous print, the curator of the British Museum offers the following insightful comment:
“The influence of sixteenth-century images of death on Rethel is demonstrated in these two prints `Death the Strangler` and its companion, `Death the Friend` (cat.no 273). The most obvious source being the series of 41 woodcuts of the Dance of Death of 1538 designed by Holbein the Younger. But Rethel`s interpretation of Death as an overwhelmingly menacing force which dominates the entire composition derives ultimately from Dürer, whose radical image of a destructive power sweeping away all in its path in ` The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse` had a pervasive influence ( cat.no 271).”





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