Friedrich Nerly

Friedrich Nerly
(Erfurt 1807 - 1878 Venice)

View of the Bacino di San Marco in Venice, c. 1840

Oil on canvas, 75 x 106 cm
Signed lower left in the foreground F. Nerly f.

A written report by Dr. Wolfram Morath-Vogel, Erfurt, dated June 2019 accompanies the painting.

Provenance (based on information provided by the former owner):
probably Markwart or Olga Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg;
Alexandra Olga Maria Staelin, née Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg (1922-2016), Stuttgart, married Rolf Paul Georg Staelin (1913-85) in 1960;
thence by descent.


The view looking west from Riva Cà di Dio across the Bacino di San Marco – the harbor basin and waterfront of Venice – was one of Friedrich Nerly’s preferred motifs. In the present painting the eye is led towards the domed silhouette of Santa Maria della Salute rising up at the far left against a radiant sunset sky. Church towers, steeples and the Campanile, the city’s most commanding landmark, vie for height with the tall masts of sailing ships moored on the waterfront and at anchor on the canal. Nerly’s accentuation of the masts and booms enhances the perspectival effect. Interspersed between the ships are gondolas and small working boats. Palazzo Dandolo (now part of the Danieli Hotel) and the former Palazzo delle Prigioni occupy the right of the composition. On the waterfront a little further on is the Palazzo Ducale, its facade lit by the glow of the evening sun. The twin columns of San Marco and San Todaro stand at the entrance to Piazzetta San Marco. Beyond them is a glimpse of the Biblioteca Marciana.

Much of Nerly’s work strikes a nostalgic chord. In an era of rapidly developing steam navigation his sailing ships and gondolas convey an anachronistic, idealized representation of Venice. In his letters to friends and colleagues he repeatedly criticized contemporary modernization practice and lamented repair work on historic architecture.1

Friedrich Nehrlich – after moving to Italy he changed his name to Federico Nerly – was born in Erfurt in 1807. He was raised by relatives in Hamburg, where his first drawing instructor was an uncle, Heinrich Joachim Herterich (1772-1852). He went on to train as a lithographer under Johann Michael Speckter (1764-1845). It was in Speckter’s circle that Nerly met the writer and art collector Carl Friedrich von Rumohr (1785-1843), who played an important role as a promoter, patron and instructor of talented young artists such as Franz Horny.

Nerly accompanied Rumohr to Italy in late 1827. It was Rumohr’s third Italian visit. In the following year they toured northern Italy together. When Rumohr decided to return to Germany Nerly headed for Rome, where he was to remain for six years. He traveled widely, not only locally but to Naples and as far south as Calabria and Sicily, painting prolifically and producing a large body of oil sketches and drawings.2

Nerly decided to return to Germany in 1835. He set off from Rome and after a stay in Milan decided to make a first short trip to Venice. It was a life-changing decision – and the start of a lifelong love affair with the city. He met and married Agathe Alexandra Aginovitch, a well-connected member of Venetian society. The couple lived in Palazzo Pisani where Nerly had set up his studio after the death of the Swiss painter Louis-Léopold Robert (1794-1835). Visits to Nerly’s studio marked one of the high points of every Grand Tourist’s visit to Venice. He had no shortage of clients for whom he produced a whole series of views stimulated by the architectural magnificence of the city’s palaces, churches, squares and bridges. Joseph Mallord William Turner, who worked in Venice from 1819 to 1821, strongly influenced his romantic approach. Nerly’s views are filled with dramatic effects of light and display his masterly handling of ambience. The present work is a fine example of his painterly virtuosity and attention to detail.3

1Johannes Myssok, ‘Friedrich Nerly in Venedig’, in MDCCC 1800, Università Ca’ Foscari, Venice, I/1, 2012, pp. 58-9 (accessed December 12, 2019).

2 Friedrich Nerly und die Künstler um Carl Friedrich Rumohr, exhib. cat., Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseum, Kloster Zismar and Landesmuseum Mainz 1991, p. 14.

3 Friedrich Nerly, op. cit., p. 12, note 24.

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