Plate: 15 1/8 x 19 7/8 inches
Sheet: 16 1/4 x 20 7/8 inches
Museum purchase with funds provided by
the Marjorie G. and Evan C. Horning Print Fund;
with gifts of Benjamin and Renée Danziger in
honor of Barry Walker; and Nina and Michael Zilkha
After studying French as a youth, Carl Wilhelm Kolbe attended the Berlin Academy of Art. The academic training led him to draw by observing plaster models and classical sculpture, but his true passion was landscape imagery, as seen here in his most famous etching, I Too Was in Arcadia.
After teaching himself printmaking, Kolbe became the finest German etcher of his time. His etchings featuring idyllic landscapes, which were inspired by 17th-century Dutch landscape paintings and the forests of Dessau, were the source for German Romanticism. He produced 28 highly personal etchings in which giant vegetation dwarfs the human figures. This young couple, nude yet modest, is in Arcadia, a region in ancient Greece that symbolizes a pastoral paradise. The couple fix their gaze on the Latin inscription on a tomb translated by Kolbe as “I too lived in Arcadia.” This phrase is an example of memento mori, a cautionary reminder of the transitory nature of life and the inevitability of death. Arcadian landscapes such as this one were immensely popular among German artists of the late 18th century.