Hans Makart was the most distinguished and highly esteemed Austrian painter of his age. Born in Salzburg, he studied between 1860 and 1865 at the Akademie in Munich. Virtually from the outset he demonstrated a new freedom from the specificity of historical events and a brilliant sense for colourism. By 1869, Makart had been summoned to Vienna by Emperor Franz Joseph II, commissioned to execute large-scale interior decorations for the new buildings along the Ringstrasse. He also involved himself in theatre design, notably at the Stadttheater, the Komische Oper and the Belvedere, and profoundly influenced the direction of public pictorial design in the capital city.
The Abduction / Death and the Maiden may well reflect his interest, during his early Munich years, in Romantic themes that also had musical associations. It is hard not to think of the great Viennese composer Franz Schubert’s lied, or song, “Death and the Maiden” of 1817 and his String Quartet of 1824, also known under that title. The theme of the drawing, a sort of amalgam of the Totentanz with erotic undercurrents, dates back to the Renaissance, a subject particularly pursued in Germanic art. The drawing is a wonderful example of the artist’s early virtuosity in the use of multiple media. The foreshortened horse of hell leaps into the black chasm of the underworld at great speed, confirmed by the shroud-like cape of Death caught in the wind; Death himself is highly defined to enhance the realism of the horror; the maiden, apparently collapsing into death, her life flow evoked by the strangely pinkish-blond loosened hair, is more fluidly and loosely defined. The scene is set in ominous lighting against a dark, hovering sky. Makart has also animatedly, even savagely, scratched into the surface of the paper, notably at lower right, with the dry point of his pen, suggesting weeds about the rocky outcropping.