Portrait of a Hunter, 1860
About the object
The old man beams a wrinkled smile at us from out of the painting. The stag horn buttons on his jacket and the typical hat replete with holly branch would suggest that he is a hunter. The tenebrity of the tonal rendering of his clothes and the background seems deliberate, highlighting his mischievous smile.
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The friendly face of an old man glows in light tones against a dark background. His face is creased with wrinkles and marked by the wind and weather. His skin is tanned, his cheeks are rosy, and a smile plays about his lips; even his eyes are framed with laugh lines. The painter Ferdinand Keller here creates an expressive portrait that is full of character. With exceptional sensitivity to detail, he evokes the skin, proportions, individual facial features, and fine gray whiskers on the canvas. The background and the subject’s clothing seem intentionally subdued in dark brown tones, allowing the face of the man, who appears to be about 70 years old, to emerge with even greater expressive power. In this bust-length portrait, Ferdinand Keller depicts a huntsman from the Black Forest. The motif is somewhat unusual for this artist; today, he is known above all for his opulent history paintings. He also served as director of the Kunstakademie in Karlsruhe, where many later Black Forest painters studied. This portrait of a hunter may have been inspired by these artists’ motifs and by proximity to the Black Forest; perhaps the artist was fascinated by the old man’s face, so full of character. The man’s occupation is indicated by the brown jacket with its green collar and staghorn buttons; his hat likewise shows a green band adorned with a holly leaf, a plant widespread in the Black Forest. With its red berries and evergreen leaves, it is a symbol of eternal life and is frequently used for decoration at Christmastime. MIRJA STRAUB (Transl. MELISSA THORSON)