The Swiss-German portrait artist Anton Graff had already achieved success in Augsburg, Munich, and Regensburg by the time he was appointed court painter in Dresden in 1766. In 1789 he became Professor of Portraiture at the Academy there. His official position was that of portraitist to the aristocracy of Saxony, and with his deeply sensitive, virtually monochrome portraits of scholars, philosophers, and artists he became one of the most important portrait artists of the German Enlightenment. The new followers of the cult of friendship during the era of Empfindsamkeit (sentimentality) were beneficial to his genre. Two major collectors were commissioning work: Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleim commissioned portraits for his “Friendship Temple” in his house in Halberstadt while the Leipzig bookseller Philipp Erasmus Reich, following Gleim’s lead, created a gallery of famous contemporary poets and thinkers. In Berlin in 1771, Graff made portraits of Moses Mendelssohn, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, the poet Karl Wilhelm Ramler, and the philosopher and aesthete Johann Georg Sulzer, who became his father-in-law shortly afterwards. Sulzer was the author of a General Theory of the Fine Arts which accorded the portrait considerable importance. As a mirror of the soul, portraiture took a leading position in the hierarchy of genres. Anton Graff himself estimated that he painted well over a thousand portraits. They reflect his development over a fifty-year period; starting with decorative baroque portraits he then, under the influence of Lavater and Sulzer, concentrated on the sitter’s physiognomy before returning to full-length portraits around 1800. Graff painted self-portraits at every stage of his working life, well over fifty all told. His successful application for the position in Dresden in 1766 was in the form of a portrait, and even as late as 1813, the year he died, he still completed two self-portraits. His late portraits, carried out despite his failing sight, are astonishing in their freedom and intensity, and are more painterly in their conception than anything else hitherto.


  • Title: Self-Portrait with Eye-shade
  • Creator: Anton Graff
  • Date Created: 1813
  • Physical Dimensions: w51.0 x h65.0 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Technique and material: Oil on canvas
  • Inv.-No.: A I 406
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-815114
  • External link: Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Prestel Verlag / Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Photo: © b p k - Photo Agency / Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Andres Kilger
  • Collection: Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Artist biography: Anton Graff was a Swiss artist, especially known for his portraits. He served as apprentice under the court painter Schneider and became court painter himself in Dresden in 1766, where he later went on to work as a professor at the Dresden Art Academy. His reputation is largely founded on his portraits, such as those of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, Friedrich Schiller and Heinrich von Kleist. In later years he devoted himself to landscape paintings and exerted a deep influence on Philipp Otto Runge and Caspar David Friedrich. The portrait of Frederick II of Prussia is considered his chief work.
  • Artist Place of Death: Dresden, Germany
  • Artist Place of Birth: Winterthur, Switzerland
  • Artist Dates: 1736-11-18/1813-06-22

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