Is spatially elastic

Carl Wilhelm Kolbe: giant herbs and monster trees. Kunsthaus Zürich, until November 28,, catalog: Imhof.


The peace in nature is over. The nymph just escaped the intrusive satyr's hands. A faun saves children from an invisible danger on his shoulders. And even the trees look creepy. On the sheets of Carl Wilhelm Kolbe (1759–1835), instincts, passions and fears permeate the scenery. Arcadia is no longer the idyll that can only be entered by those who have shed the constraints and horrors of society. Huge leaves of herb form grottos, which one would like to warn the lovers against who enter them. Willows and oaks have been transformed into fantastic structures that would have done credit to Max Ernst's surreal dream landscapes. There is a freedom of imagination at work, which allows Salomon Gessner's idylls to belong to another world. Kolbe came to Zurich in 1805 to make etchings based on the great Inspirer's gouaches and gave the Zurich Art Society a drawing of a dead willow trunk. The famous sheet now forms the starting point for an overview of the work of the linguist and artist who worked in Dessau. You can admire how Kolbe breaks away from Gessner and how the free design permeates the meticulous depiction of foliage and tree trunks. He plays with proportions, makes the room elastic and uses plants like set pieces. The world is an inscrutable place. (gm.)