The Hungarian painter Károly Markó the Elder, who lived for many years in Italy, is known as the author of mythological and biblical scenes and motifs set in large, expansively composed Arcadian landscapes. He had been a student at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts for two years and had already had some success as an artist by the time he set off for Italy. On arriving in Rome in 1832, Markó attached himself to Anton Koch (1768 –1839), a member of the Brotherhood of Saint Luke (also known as the Nazarenes). It was not a random choice, although the extent to which Koch influenced his development as an artist is open to question. Both painters nurtured a certain preference for landscapes populated with figures from mythology and in this respect can be said to have continued the classical tradition of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. The painterly severity of a painter like Koch, as manifested in his sharply delineated motifs and use of clear colours, however, is nowhere to be found in the works of Markó, who cultivated a softer style and attached great importance to a harmonious palette. Markó, of course, stands for a different generation that was becoming increasingly preoccupied with the reality of the natural world, even if he never quite relinquished his idealized images of nature, which is why his creations should always be viewed in the context of his studio work. Our painting, too, is undoubtedly a product of the studio. The view of a waterfall with luxuriant vegetation extending all the way to the edges of the canvas is relatively narrow and selfcontained. Its painterly charm derives from the interplay of water, rocks and trees, which Markó articulates with painstaking attention to detail. It is a landscape that cannot be identified beyond doubt,1 but that invites viewers to linger and that yields up many of its charms only on closer scrutiny. Unusually for Markó, the composition is almost entirely without extras – apart from a barely perceptible male figure in the right half of the work. Markó’s painting still bears the stamp of the Romantics, even if it lacks the quasi-religious veneration of nature that had its roots in Romanticism. His figures are not outcasts, but instead seem to belong to the world of mythology, of nymphs and Greek goddesses, even if there are simple country folk among them, too. The relationship between man and nature is a prelapsarian one in Markó’s work; it is as if his personal experience of Italian levity and dolce vita had infused the world of his paintings. Károly Markó soon succeeded in making a name for himself in Rome and in 1840 he was appointed professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. He spent his final years living the life of a recluse near Florence.
The painting could perhaps show one of the waterfalls of Tivoli near Rome, where the artist lived from 1834.↩