Crispian Riley-Smith talks about a pair of rare Jacob Hackert gouaches and their discovery.
In anticipation of Master Drawings New York 2021 (Saturday 23 January - Saturday 30 January 2021), Crispian Riley-Smith examines a work by the German landscape painter Jakob Philipp Hackert.
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The German landscape painter Jakob Philipp Hackert began his artistic career in 1753 in Berlin. 1762 he was invited by the Swedish councillor Adolf Friedrich von Olthof (1718-1793) to his house in Stralsund where he passed the following three years. In May 1765 he moved to Paris where he lived and worked until the summer of 1768 when he travelled to Rome where he remained for the following eighteen years. In 1786 Hackert was appointed court painter by Ferdinand IV of Naples, living and working in that city and in Caserta. Already whilst in Rome, Hackert had become the most famous landscape painter of his days and clients from all over Europe sought his realistic depictions of Italian sites. With his move to Naples Hackert finally reached the peak of his career, but in 1799 his life as a wealthy and honoured court painter came to a sudden end: the painter had to flee from invading French troops leaving all his belongings behind and make a new home in Florence. In 1803 he bought a small estate in the nearby S. Piero di Careggi and continued to work there until his death in 1807.
The composition of both images is dominated by the diagonal course of water which flows from the background to the foreground; the architecture follows this direction, extending from the outer edge to the centre. In this Hackert reveals himself still under the influence of the Dutch masters of the seventeenth century as for example Salomon van Ruisdael, whose works he must have studied during his education in Berlin.
The present two gouaches are also dated 1768. In the first the painter uses the same compositional scheme as in the images discussed above: the viewer looks at the hilly line of a coast extending from the right foreground into the depth of the image, two slender trees frame the right border. In the foreground fishermen are working on the shore, and a small sailing-boat is anchored in the water. In the middleground an isolated building situated on the shore attracts the spectators attention. The second Gouache shows a different kind of landscape: it shows a hilly woodland with a valley in the centre where a violently burning fire is raging; huge clouds of smoke rise up into the sky. A man and a seated woman are resting in the foreground, evidently without worrying about the fire behind them. Finally there is a small river in the right lower corner of the image.
These two newly discovered gouaches occupy a special place in Hackerts work, first of all because of their provenance from the collection of the Chevalier de Damery. We can propose the hypothesis that the Chevalier, evidently filled with enthusiasm in front of Hackerts impressive views of Swedish landscapes and interested also in the industrial and agricultural activities of these particular areas, encouraged the painter to execute the gouaches even four years after his Swedish sojourn. This encouragement would have matched Hackerts artistic inclinations which were always directed to the documentation of landscape including the activities of people, such as the special method of gaining land for farming or the particular building of the fayence factory – elements, which anchor the images in a concrete geographical place and historical moment and give them the quality of visual documents. The painter is not only an artist but also a chronicler. A further reason for the importance of these two gouaches is the rarity of paintings with Swedish motifs in Hackerts oeuvre. Besides the drawings executed during the trip in Sweden in 1764, there are only four paintings which represent Swedish landscapes. These gouaches can therefore be recognized as highly important early works by Hackert, which were also of great importance to the artist himself. Rome, 9 November 2011 Dr. Claudia Nordhoff.