29.4 x 23 cm
dated lower left: / 20 Dec. 1842 / ...
Trained between Paris and Munich, Johann Jacob Frey arrived in Rome in 1836, where he joined the community of German artists. Following the landscape painting tradition, he begins to travel through the Roman countryside and the localities around Rome - Tivoli, Anagni, Nepi, Grottaferrata, Ariccia, Albano, Olevano - but also Tuscia, Umbria and Tuscany. Between 1839 and 1840 he spent several months in Naples, visiting the coast and the ruins of Paestum, and subsequently, between July and September 1840, he went as far as Sicily. Most of the designs in the Mantura collection belong to these years. Attracted by the luminosity and chromatic intensity and by the majesty of the Mediterranean landscape, with its wide spaces and its luxuriant vegetation, Frey creates rapid sketches - landscape and costume studies - destined to be reworked in the studio in paintings characterized by a palette bright and enameled in which the lesson of the Neapolitan school is evident, Giacinto Gigante in particular, but also that of Camille Corot. It is a lyrical, atmospheric and majestic vision in which a romantic feeling of nature dominates - always preponderant with respect to the human presence - which will have great success with international customers passing through Rome, assiduous frequenter of the artist's studio who will live in the capital. until the end of his days, except for some trips to Egypt (1842-43), France and Spain (1848-49).
The watercolor Palms belongs to the Egyptian adventure. In September 1842, under the guidance of his archaeologist friend Carl Richard Lepsius, Frey took part in an expedition promoted by the Prussian government to Egypt and Ethiopia with the task of documenting the places visited and the archaeological finds destined for the Berlin museum. As Lepsius recalls in his report , it was a journey full of unexpected events, including sandstorms, torrential rains and attacks by marauders that repeatedly put the group in difficulty causing Frey to lose numerous drawings. In August 1843, before arriving in Ethiopia, due to health problems Frey was forced to abandon the expedition and return to Italy. The surviving sketches and notes that he nevertheless managed to bring with him and the memory of the African landscape had, upon his return to Rome, a decisive role for his art, providing him with inspiration for a vast quantity of paintings of oriental subjects that met with great appreciation above all among the German and Swiss clientele.
The sheet of the Mantura collection, depicting palms and other shrubs against the background of the desert, is for the precisely one of the many studies that fortunately escaped the Egyptian misadventures. Made in Giza, as evidenced by a large group of watercolors painted there and dated the same day, December 20, 1842 , the work attests well, with the meticulous attention to botanical data, the luminous palette, the immediacy of the fluid rendering and synthetic, that happy encounter between German culture, landscape tradition and Mediterranean and oriental landscape that will be one of the most distinctive features of his production.
 CR Lepsius, Briefe aus Aegypten, Aethiopien und der Halbinsel des Sinai: geschrieben in den Jahren 1842 - 1845 während der auf Befehl Sr. Maj. des Königs Friedrich Wilhelm IV von Preußen ausgeführten wissenschaftlichen Expedition, Berlin 1852
 cf. E. Passalalpi Ferrari, Johann Jacob Frey. Un artista svizzero sulle strade del mondo, Rome 2015, p. 58.