From the 1820s until his death, the vedutisti painter Johann Martin Morat (1805 – 1867) painted places and architecture of his South Baden homeland and neighbouring Switzerland. Paying precise attention to details of nature, he sketched more than 90 scenes, using gouache paints to give them radiance.
His works are valuable as historical documents as they reliably reproduce the appearance of local landscape before or shortly after photography was invented. Morat’s works include the earliest surviving images of some of the small and remote towns and villages; while for the larger towns and cities, he created the most detailed surviving representations of the early 19th century.
The gouaches are characterised b y a radiant vividness, and distinguished by their own individual aesthetic – one which combines the factual reproduction of a locality with the charm of a simplistic painting. The constantly blue sky, with a clear white or delicate rose sfumato in some places is characteristic of his paintings, and Morat crafted an image of town and country that turned his works into icons of Baden’s identity.
Freiburg, Staufen, Münstertal
From his home town of Stühlingen close to the Swiss border, Morat travelled along the Rhine Valley as far as Freiburg. Around 1830 he painted several versions of the view across the Breisgau city from the vantage point of Herdern. Rare drawings document how he first prepared his scene, and then later updated it on a second visit or added buildings to it. Morat often painted a place from several angles, as with Staufen.
Morat’s travel routes followed the course of the valleys. As the railway networks were not yet developed, he travelled around Wiesental with the post coach as far as mountainous Zell. His paintings reflect the massive change that the valley underwent due to the booming textile industry. Morat does not have a critical view on industrialisation. He doesn’t regard it as damaging a perfect landscape but rather, in his role of an objective chronicler, incorporates it very naturally into his pictorial world.
In the Black Forest
Morat also painted gouaches of remote locations in the Upper Black Forest. His paintings are often the first reliable representations of these places. In comparison with today, the occasional woodless peaks are striking. These were the result of the deforestation and excessive exploitation of timber by manual crafts, industry and timber rafting which was occurring at that time. Morat had clearly noticed the growing tourism in the Black Forest and adapted his choice of subjects to serve it.
The section of the River Rhine between Basel and Lake Constance is known as the High Rhine. The river marked the border between Germany and Switzerland during Morat’s time too. It is an integral element in both the landscape and the townscape. From Säckingen to Kadelburg, the painter follows the river that reoccurs time and again in different forms. With the arrival of the railways to the High Rhine, the towns along the river increasingly opened up to tourism, and Morat could have certainly expected great demand for his paintings of the region.
Along the Wutach
The towns and villages along the river Wutach and in the Klettgau were obvious subjects for Morat, who was born close-by in Stühlingen. As the expense of travelling in his home region was manageable, Morat also painted smaller places here, even if it meant that there would be fewer buyersfor his works. The artist’s main focus tended towards landscapes rather than townscapes, and his preference was predominantly for panoramic views.
At the Lake of Constance
Morat reached Lake Constance – which comprised the eastern edge of his travel route – by ship. The lake was a popular attraction for artists who visited its harbour towns and captured its idyllic scenery in paintings. Morat chose a viewpoint very near the water, or possibly even on a boat, to portray the places true-to-life from the perspective of the lake itself.
Blauer Himmel über Baden: Ortsansichten des 19. Jahrhunderts von Johann Martin Morat. Hrsg. von Felix Reuße für die Städtischen Museen Freiburg, Augustinermuseum. Ostfildern: Jan Thorbecke Verlag 2019.