Shop art print and framed art La mort et le fossoyeur by Carlos Schwabe

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Subjects : Fantasy
Keywords : 20th century, Symbolism, allegory, angel, cemetery, cold, death, fear, grave, snow, wing, winter
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To fully enjoy «La mort et le fossoyeur» by Carlos Schwabe, we recommend the medium size (83.4x60 cm) printed on hand stretched canvas, with the gilded mouldings - thin frame.
The artwork

La mort et le fossoyeur

Death and the Gravedigger by Carlos Schwabe: a dark and haunting work

Born in 1866 in Altona, near Hamburg, Carlos Schwabe is a naturalized Swiss German painter and engraver. His artistic career began at an early age, with studies at the Académie Julian in Paris. He soon discovered the Symbolist movement, influenced by major artists such as Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon. It was along these lines that he decided to embark, to depict scenes imbued with mystery and spirituality.

Death and the Gravedigger is a watercolor and gouache on paper dating from 1895, a key period in the flowering of Symbolism. This work also marks a significant turning point in Schwabe's career: at the age of 29, he was gradually gaining recognition within the Parisian art scene.

Description of Death and the Gravedigger

As you look at this work, you're immediately struck by the ominous atmosphere it exudes. The colors are predominantly dark, with shades of gray and black dominating the painting.

In the center of the scene, two figures face each other in a snow-covered cemetery: Death and a gravedigger. Death is a dark-winged angel, depicted as a young woman with an inscrutable face, long, splayed hands, dressed in a black shroud. She stands crouched on the edge of a pit, in a graceful, graphic posture. In her hand, an enigmatic crystal of an intense green color casts an unearthly light.

The gravedigger, meanwhile, is a miserable, elderly man dressed in rags. Death seems to surprise him as he digs a grave, for another or for himself. The shovel he was using has been thrown over the edge of the grave. The gravedigger's gaze turns to Death, with a mixture of exhaustion, resignation, and perhaps relief.

In the background, a curtain of weeping willow branches separates the characters from a series of snow-covered graves. All these elements contribute to creating a gothic, macabre and oppressive atmosphere typical of Schwabe's symbolist visions.

The key role of the gravedigger

The gravedigger appears as a central character in this work. Charged with digging graves for the deceased, he too is swept away by Death. His resigned demeanor also reflects an awareness of the inescapable reality of death. Contemplating the grim reaper before him, he accepts his own end and recognizes the inexorable passage of time, marking the fragility of the human condition.

The menacing presence of Death

Yet, beneath this frightening aspect, Death also appears as a maternal figure. On the one hand, the use of low-angle composition gives the sense that the black angel towers over the gravedigger. With no scythe, his wings both embrace and hug the old man. On the other hand, the gravedigger's miserable appearance makes Death seem like a compassionate angel. This duality between terror and comfort underlines the ambivalence with which we perceive death: we are both frightened by the prospect of our own demise, yet sometimes see it as a well-deserved rest after a life of hardship.

The importance of Death and the Gravedigger in Carlos Schwabe's artistic career

If this work marks a real turning point in Schwabe's career, it's largely thanks to its visual and thematic daring. Indeed, Death and the Gravedigger perfectly reflects the preoccupations of Symbolist artists of the time, who sought to transcend reality to better express the human soul and its torments.

This painting is also interesting because it prefigures some of Carlos Schwabe's major works, notably his Spleens and Ideals series (1896-1907). In these paintings, the artist again tackles the theme of death, but also that of melancholy, love and dreams. Death and the Gravedigger thus represents a crucial stage in the genesis of this atypical artist's pictorial universe.


This artwork is a painting from the modern period. It belongs to the symbolism style.


« La mort et le fossoyeur » is kept at Musée d'Orsay (conservé au Musée du Louvre), Paris, France.


The artist

Carlos Schwabe

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