Seascapes and coastal views are highlights of the work of Austrian painter, Alfred Zoff. Through a play of light and colour, he masterfully captures the atmosphere of the churning surf in his painting “Riviera, Breaking Waves in Boccadasse” which will be sold at Dorotheum on 8 November 2022.
Alfred Zoff (1852–1927) was one of the leading exponents of Stimmungsimpressionismus, the atmospheric landscape painting style of Austrian Post-Impressionism. Born in Graz in the middle of the 19th century, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna with Eduard Peithner von Lichtenfels, and later gained renown when the emperor, Kaiser Franz Joseph I, purchased one of his paintings at the annual exhibition of the Vienna Künstlerhaus.
In 19th century Austria, landscape painting was largely dominated by a realistic, academic approach to the subject. Alfred Zoff’s work reflected his interest in medicine and the scientific approach to life and landscape: it informed his artistic response to the depiction of man and nature. For Zoff however, Realism lacked liveliness and with the spread of Impressionism, he began to develop his technique, loosening his brushstrokes and thickening his paint layers. His landscapes were not idealized, instead he focused on depicting movement and creating atmosphere. After a trip to the Croatian city of Ičići in 1878, seascapes and coastal landscapes became one of Zoff’s most painted subjects. In 1884, he moved to Karlsruhe to attend the school of art, the Großherzoglich Badische Kunstschule, where he began to expand his colour palette, and develop his impasto technique. While Carinthia was Alfred Zoff’s favourite location, he also travelled to Belgium and Italy, where he drew inspiration for his painting. His work Riviera, Breaking Waves in Boccadasse is set in an Italian village near Genoa. It is an accurate portrayal of reality, though not through emphasis on detail: the vitality of Zoff’s work is in his description of the movement of the water and of the changing behaviour of the sea through the agitated waves beneath the precipitous cliffs.
Zoff returned to Graz later in life and trained younger generations of artists at the Steiermärkische Landeskunstschule. He had a profound influence on the development of Austrian painting and the export of Stimmungsimpressionismus (mood Impressionism). Alfred Zoff’s works captivate the viewer through their precise observation, but it was through his experimentation with new artistic techniques and his incorporation of new ideas that he kept his finger on the pulse of the times.
Dimitra Reimüller is Specalist for 19th Century Paintings at
Dorotheum. Amélie d’Arenberg is an art historian