Lioba! Berger de l’Oberland bernois rappelant son troupeau (Lioba! A Shepherd in the Bernese Oberland Calling back His Flock), 1886
In 1882, Auguste Baud-Bovy left Geneva for Paris to be with his Communard friends and the artists of the French-Swiss colony. During his time there he became fascinated by the palette of Camille Corot and gave up the dark, thick paint he had previously used in his portraits. In 1888 he returned to Switzerland and settled in Aeschi, a small village in the Bernese Oberland.
Lioba! heralds this return to the homeland impelled by nostalgia for a life surrounded by nature. The painting is part of a series of six large-format canvases illustrating the ‘Heroic actions of the shepherd’ executed between 1886 and 1890. It was inspired by sketches made in the summer of 1885 at the place called the Bundalp, in the Kiental Valley. The work was executed with thinly applied paint in shades of light greys and soft greens warmed by ochres mixed with red. The emphasis is on the noble assurance of the solitary shepherd whose imposing figure, standing contrapposto like a Donatello sculpture, dominates the valley and the tiny herd of cows.
Painted almost seventy years after Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (Wanderer Above the Mist) by Caspar David Friedrich (c. 1817, Hamburg, Kunsthalle), this canvas offers a surprising reformulation of that work, with which it shares its vertical format and the figure of a man seen from behind standing on the summit of a rocky promontory with his right hand resting on his hip, facing mountains on the horizon and clouds rising from the plain. However, the works evince differing relations to landscape: whereas the icon of German Romanticism confronted a city-dweller with the immensity of virgin nature, and invited reflection on the insignificance of the human episode in the history of the earth, Baud-Bovy’s summer genre scene celebrates the harmonious relationship between the primitive civilisation of the shepherds and the high mountain valleys. The title of the painting, which refers to the traditional cry for calling in the herds and to the echo sent back by the mountains, underscores this osmosis.
La peinture suisse entre réalisme et idéal (1848-1906), exh. cat. Geneva, Musée Rath, 1998: n. 112.
Valentina Anker, Auguste Baud-Bovy (1848-1899), Bern, Benteli, 1991.