CARL HAAG, O.W.S. (1820-1915)
EVENING PRAYER IN THE DESERT
Signed & dated l.l. Carl Haag 1875
Watercolour with pencil on card laid to support
30.5 x 60.5 cm
Distinguished Private Collection, East Anglia, England
This fantastically atmospheric depiction of a figure at prayer, alone in the expansive desert except for his camel, is one of several similar scenes which Haag executed in the 1870s. Comparable examples include The Morning Prayer, sold at Christie's, King St., 19.03.1996, Lot 113; and La illah ill Allah - There is no God, but God, sold at Christie's, New York, in 2007 (which sold for $73,000, a then-record price for the artist).
Carl Haag was born in Erlangen, Bavaria and began his career with an apprenticeship to his uncle, a porcelain painter in Nuremberg. During this period, he also studied at a local drawing school. His earliest works were views of the architecture of Nuremberg and small-scale portraits, with which he supplemented his income. Haag visited England in 1847, hoping to learn more about watercolour painting, and enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools. He sustained a severe burn to his right hand during his time in London and, because of this, adopted an altogether looser style to accommodate the disability. A happy outcome of this injury was Haag's doctor, Prescott Hewett, becoming an important early patron of the young artist. Hewett also introduced him to Edward Gordon-Pennant, Lord Penrhyn, who was later to commission multiple works from Haag.
Haag's next professional break came in 1852 when, while touring the Tyrol, he met the Prince of Leiningen - the maternal half-brother of Queen Victoria. The prince was evidently impressed with his work and recommended him to the Queen. Haag found himself invited to Balmoral the following year and was commissioned to paint several highland scenes, views of Balmoral, and several portraits of Royal Family members. This patronage evidently impressed Haag's peers, who elected him a full member of the Old Watercolour Society (now the Royal Watercolour Society) just two years later. Haag made an extensive tour in the intervening years throughout Italy, Germany, and the Balkans.
In the same year that he was elected to the Old Watercolour Society, Haag travelled to Egypt and the Near-East for two years, painting many views of the people and places he saw. He was accompanied by Frederick Goodall and shared a studio with his fellow-orientalist in Cairo. Towards the end of his tour, he visited Jerusalem, and, at the special request of his royal patron Victoria, the Sultan permitted him to paint the interior of the Dome of the Rock - making Haag the first ever Western artist to be granted access to this sacred shrine.
Haag's varied and lengthy travels are a testament to his devotion to his work, as well as to his extraordinary commercial success: not only did it cost a great deal to finance these journeys, but Haag also maintained large studios in England and Germany, both filled with props and costumes from his travels.