Actor in costume
  • Franz Skarbina
  • Berlin 1849 - 1910
  • Actor in costume
  • Watercolour and gouache, on cardboard
  • signed with brush on the lower right: F. Skarbina
  • 415 × 248 mm

It is known that the ephemeral art of theater had repeatedly inspired Franz Skarbina, just as in the following Portrait of an Actor wearing the Frock Coat and Buckled Shoes of the Rococo period. Yet the model’s confident posture does not entirely fit with the listless, sleepy corners of his mouth and his gaze, which wavers aimlessly into the distance. Rather, the atmosphere suggests a role portrait from which the young actor would be only too happy to escape. The fact that the depiction of this emotion was the true pictorial concern of the artist and had less to do with painstakingly rendering the actor’s costume in all its intricate details also illustrates his rather cursory handling of so many details. At the same time, a certain ambiguity in spatial relations works to shift the viewer’s focus to the overall coloristic effect of the watercolour. Just these kinds of works indeed attest to the modernity of Skarbina, who, in May 1891, became one of the founding members of the progressive Association of German Watercolourists in Berlin, which was very much oriented towards plein air painting. Skarbina was lauded by art critics for his virtuosity, especially in this technique, at the group’s first exhibition in March 1892 at the Gallery Amsler & Ruthardt. The Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst (Journal of Fine Arts) stated that “one must, above all, see the water in a watercolour. And this “joy of water” stamps a delightful freshness on his study sheets and transient figures. The clever use of water stains gives [sic] the images an interesting character.”