JOHANN GEORG VON DILLIS
Johann Georg von Dillis (1759 – 1841) was one of the most distinguished German artists of the period around 1800. He absorbed the traditions of classical landscape art and transformed them into a new and “realistic” landscape painting of the sort that gradually gained acceptance in the nineteenth century. As a professor of landscape painting at the Academy, arts official, and artistic advisor to three monarchs, Dillis played a major role in Munich culture; he traveled widely throughout Europe and exchanged ideas with eminent contemporaries in Rome, Florence, Milan, Paris, Vienna, and Prague.
His extensive and eminent estate, which is now held by the Historical Society of Upper Bavaria, has been on permanent loan to the Lenbachhaus since 1996. Though it includes only a handful of finished works, it comprises around 8,000 drawings and 40 sketchbooks that offer insight into the private life and creative output of the artist, who served the Bavarian court in a range of functions.
The drawings and oil sketches are the fruits of the busy art organizer’s scant leisure: Dillis rarely had the opportunity to execute oil paintings, a time-consuming process, and so oil studies, watercolors, and drawings increasingly became his media of choice. Working “in the great outdoors,” he believed, was the best training for the landscape painter. Dillis thus became a pioneer of en plein air painting in Munich. He jotted down impressions and motifs from the world around him that fascinated him — similar in this regard to Adolph Menzel, a later artist who is reported to have said that “all drawing is good, but drawing everything is better.” One important division of his oeuvre consists of the sketches he produced as he traveled. Many of them show scenes in Italy and France, but Dillis also drew incessantly in Munich and the countryside south of the city. Even outlying parts of town with their unprepossessing street corners and people drew his interest. In the last years of his life, as Dillis was increasingly unable to go on extended hikes, the view of Munich’s Prinz-Carl-Garten from his window became his most important motif. This was also where he created many of his now famous cloud studies.