(b. 1801, Heidelberg, d. 1833, Karlsruhe)
Draughtsman, painter and lithographer, part of a German family of artists: three sons of a prosperous banker and manufacturer in Heidelberg all worked in that city for part of their careers, as well as in Munich, Karlsruhe, Düsseldorf, Geneva and Rome. Wilhelm Fries (1819-1878) lived in the area of Lake Constance for most of his life and painted landscapes of that region, the Bavarian Alps and northern Italy; the youngest son, Bernhard Fries (1820-1879), was also a landscape painter.
Ernst Fries received his first drawing lessons from the university drawing master in Heidelberg, Friedrich Rottmann (1768-1818), the father of the painter Carl Rottmann. In 1815-18 he studied drawing and watercolour painting in Karlsruhe, landscape and figure drawing at the Akademie in Munich, and optics and perspective in Darmstadt. In about 1817 he started producing lithographs based on his own drawings or on works by other artists. Around 1820 he made his first attempts at oil painting. During the years 1819-23, Fries often went on sketching trips, alone or with friends, both in the area near his home and further afield, for example in Switzerland. Throughout this period he sought to develop a personal style out of diverse influences: his teachers, his father's collection of Dutch 17th-century works, and the contemporary painters Georg Augustus Wallis (1768-1847), Carl Kuntz and Joseph Anton Koch. Fries's wash drawings reveal a measure of independence in their light touch and free execution, and in the attempt to reproduce light and variety of tone.
In 1826 Fries - later to be named court painter in Karlsruhe - made the acquaintance of the young Camille Corot and in Munich of Carl Rottmann. Fries' landscapes are distinguished by their special feel for tone-sensitive use of light, which he brilliantly combined with his detailed observations of nature.