All That Glistens

Goffredo Wals
Cologne 1595 – 1638 Calabria
Landscape with a Farm and Trees beside a River
oil on copper
9 ⅝ inches Ø
24.4 cm

This well-preserved and exquisitely executed painting by Goffredo Wals (also known as Gottfried) depicts a grove above a riverbank. Blurred reflections of the trees, as if seen through a morning mist, flicker on the water’s surface. Laundry is draped over an unassuming fence. The stone building set before a rolling hill serves as an accent that draws the eye towards the light blue cloud-streaked sky. Two small figures, one seated, converse on the steep riverbank; another tends to the drying clothes.

Despite being well-known during his short lifetime, Wals was largely forgotten in the subsequent centuries. A contemporary biographer, Raphaelle Soprani, described Wal’s landscapes as “[bringing] such delight to the eye that in looking at the painted view the real one is quite forgotten.” It was not until the 1960s that Wals returned to prominence, when M. Roethlisberger and other scholars reconstructed his oeuvre from one signed etching, Landscape with Trees by the Water (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. 2002.347; fig. 1), and a few drawings with old attributions to the artist. Wals worked only on a small scale, often circular in format, and on copper (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997.157; fig. 2). He favored simple, naturalistic motifs, such as clusters of trees beside water, a group of farm buildings, or overgrown ruins in the Roman Compagna. His scenes are populated by small unobtrusive figures and characterized by crisp earth tones.

Fig. 1 Goffredo Wals, Landscape with Trees by the Water, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, inv. 2002.347
Goffredo Wals, A Roman Landscape with Figures, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997.157

Information about Wals recorded by Soprani and Filippo Baldinucci provides a rough outline of his career. Born in Cologne around 1595-1600, Wals travelled while still very young to Naples, before moving to Rome, where he worked in the studio of Agostino Tassi from 1616 to 1619. This was followed by period in Naples, during which he taught Claude Lorrain, and then, another in Genoa, where he lived with Bernardo Strozzi and instructed Antonio Travi. He then stayed briefly in nearby Savona, before returning to Naples. He is said to have perished in an earthquake in Calabria, sometime between 1638 and 1640.

Although Wals was likely exposed to the Venetian and Bolognese arcadian landscapes, his prime source of inspiration, as noted by scholars, was the work of his fellow countryman, Adam Elsheimer. This influence is especially evident in Wals’s rounded trees, landscape design, and unusual light effects. The present work recalls Elsheimer’s Tobias and the Angel (Historisches Museum Frankfurt, B0789; fig. 3); this comparison also demonstrates Wals’s sophisticated synthesis of the German and Italian landscape traditions. His palette and realism certainly influenced Claude Lorrain who would subsequently inspire Corot and the greater Barbizon school.

Fig. 3 Adam Elsheimer, Tobias and the Angel © Historisches Museum Frankfurt, B0789

Paintings by Goffredo Wals are represented in collections including the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; The National Gallery, London; National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. ❖

London, Sotheby’s, 23 June 1982, lot 47

Acquired from the above sale by Richard L. Feigen

New York, Sotheby’s, 18 October 2021, lot 27

 

EXHIBITIONS

New York, Richard L. Feigen & Co., Landscape Paintings in Rome, 1595-1675, 30 January – 23 March 1985

Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Copper as Canvas: Two Centuries of Master Paintings on Copper, 1575-1775, 12 December 1998 – 28 February 1999; travelled to Kansas City,The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, 28 March – 13 June 1999; and The Hague, The Mauritshuis, 26 June – 22 August 1999

 

Anke Repp-Eckert, ‘Zum Einfluss von Goffredo Wals auf die Kunstlerische Entwicklung Claude Lorrain’, Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 1985, XLVI, p. 393, reproduced.

Ann Sutherland Harris, Landscape Painting in Rome 1595-1675, New York, 1985, exh. cat., no. 50, reproduced.

Anke Repp-Eckert, Goffredo Wals: Zur Landschaftsmalerei zwischen Adam Elsheimer und Claude Lorrain, Cologne, 1985, p. 61, no. 5, reproduced.

Edgar Peters Bowron in Michael Komanecky (ed.), Copper as Canvas: Two Centuries of Master Paintings on Copper, 1575-1775, Phoenix Art Museum, New York and Oxford, 1998, exh. cat., pp. 311-312, no. 63, reproduced.

Installation view of the present painting in All That Glistens
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