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.
Although Hackerts fame is based mostly on his Italian paintings, he was already a fully realized artist during his years in France where he laid the foundations for his career. Together with his younger brother Johann Gottlieb (1744-1737), who also trained as a landscape painter, Hackert made long trips into the surroundings of Paris and Normandy, following, for example, the course of the river Seine. During these excursions he executed a great number of sketches with ruins of ancient castles, farm houses and scenes of rural life. Back in Paris, he used the drawings as models for paintings which he sold at the art market and upon which he depended for a living. It is apparent that the artist adapted his production to the taste of his clients, who, it seems were not interested in the veristic landscape-portraits which were to become Hackerts favourite genre in the future. The paintings of the French period often show river landscapes or seascapes with resting fishermen or farmers and their wives in the foreground; they symbolize the peaceful and idyllic aspects of life in the countryside as imagined by Hackerts Parisian clients. In most cases the paintings bear the artists signature and the date, but not the name of the site depicted which evidently was not of interest to this audience.
Hackert and his brother often executed their paintings in the newly discovered technique of gouache which had become very popular in Paris. Johann Wolfgang Goethe reports this in his biography of the painter:
The brothers saw how easy it was to gain advantage of this common passion [for gouaches], using their talents in an intelligent way. They immediately prepared gouache-colours, and after they had executed some little paintings in this technique and showed them to Mister Boucher [Franois Boucher], he was so pleased with them that he wanted to buy all four pieces . These paintings increased their fame and notoriety in Paris in such a way that they always had well-paid work to do, and more commissions than they could satisfy.
Two gouaches can be seen to typify this type of work. The first represents a coastal landscape with men working on a boat (see ill. 1), the other a coastal landscape with a fortified castle (see ill. 2). Both bear the artists signature and the date – 1768 – but not the name of the place: it is evident that they should evoke generalized images of French seascapes. The high cliffs visible in both images remind us of the coast near Dieppe, where Hackert executed many sketches during an excursion in 1766; the gothic gate of the fortress could be inspired by the gate of Gisors, also depicted by the artist in a sketch executed probably in 1767.
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.
Both gouaches are very different from Hackerts usual French landscape paintings. They do not illustrate the surroundings of Paris or the landscapes of Normandy or Picardy. In fact, the viewer finds himself in front of two views of Swedish landscapes which Hackert had sketched during a short trip to Sweden in 1764 in the company of his first patron Adolf Friedrich von Olthof. Goethe informs us in Hackerts biography:
In May 1764 count Olthof travelled to Stockholm, taking Hackert with him and introducing him to court. The diligent artist executed a lot of studies, painted during the summer a view from Karlberg for the King, executed various drawings for the Queen, and in September he returned to Stralsund with commissions from Olthof.
Among the places visited by the young painter was the small town of Marieberg, situated in a bay of Lake Mlaren, west of Stockholm. Here Hackert executed two drawings, one of which, destroyed in 1945, was not documented by a photograph. The other drawing served as a model for the first of the present gouaches (see ill. 3):
We see the diagonal coast with the same isolated building in the middleground; in the foreground the same small boat appears, on the right there is a wooden hut. No figures are visible. It is possible that the large building in the middleground was the reason for the drawing, having attracted the painters attention for its singular function. The fayence factory of Marieberg on the island of Kungsholmen had been opened in 1758 by the German entrepreneur Johann Eberhard Ludwig Ehrenreich (1722-1803). He managed the factory until 1766 when he moved to the fayence-factory in Stralsund. Marieberg at this time had 130 workers, many of them from France, Denmark and Germany and produced fayence of very high quality until 1780 when the factory closed. It seems obvious that Hackert was fascinated by the existence of such a highly developed industry in the middle of the rather wild Swedish woodlands. Furthermore, the factory helps the viewer to identify immediately the landscape which otherwise could be an anonymous image of a Swedish lake. Hackert embellished the scenery as captured by the drawing with two slender trees at the edge which substituted the modest hut; also, the figures of the fishermen and the floating sailing-boat serve to enrich the composition. Although the scenery seems to be depicted in daylight, a full moon is shining over the water. During his sojourn in Sweden Hackert must have experienced the long northern days in high summer when it never gets completely dark and remained fascinated by the natural phenomenon of a shining moon in a sky still light by the last rays of the sun.
The second gouache is based on a drawing executed in Sweden which, as with the first of the Marieberg sketches, was destroyed in the Second World War without having been photographed. The description however makes clear that it showed the same place as one of the present gouaches. Both inscriptions inform the viewer that the fire raging in the middleground of the image is no calamity of nature but a fire caused by the farmers in order to create fertile conditions for the planting of rye. Actually the expression Swedjeland means woodland which is being cleared by cutting the trees and burning the ground vegetation.
Although the composition is dramatic Hackert seldom ceded to an overly dramatic rendering of natural phenomena: his approach to nature was always the one of an observer who documented the visible world as thoroughly as possible, without giving a personal interpretation to the depicted sceneries. So it seems clear that the fire caught Hackerts interest not for its dramatic aspects but for its function as a method used by farmers to cultivate the woodlands, and this is the reason for the extensive inscription on the drawing and gouache explaining the subject. The presence of the man and the calmly resting woman in the foreground tranquilizes the spectator as much as the small figures of other two men with a dog who observe the fire from a hillock in the middleground: their behaviour makes clear that we are not in front of a natural catastrophe but a phenomenon under control.
Although we have now gained information about the depicted sites of the gouaches, there still remains the question why Hackert in 1768 after three years in Paris and already close to his departure for Italy decided to use the Swedish sketches for two Gouache paintings, the very technique in which he usually executed images with generalized French landscapes. It can be presumed that this choice was due to the concrete order of a client who visited Hackerts studio, saw among others the sketches from the artists trip to Sweden and was attracted by the subjects of the drawings, wishing paintings with exactly these images. Luckily, the name of this patron is known thanks to two engravings which were made after the gouaches by the French engraver Martin de Monchy (1746-after 1815). Hackerts patron was the Parisian Chevalier Jean-Louis-Antoine le Vaillant de Damery (1723-1803), Knight of the Order of Saint-Louis, officer and, importantly, famous collector of paintings, drawings and prints. In 1757 de Damery decided to make his collections known to a larger public and began to commission engravings after his paintings by different artists; this enterprise was called the Cabinet grav and resulted, as far as we know, in more than 100 engravings. Economical difficulties forced the Chevalier to sell parts of his collections in 1764 and 1782. Finally he also had to sell his castle and estate and move to the Htel Royal des Invalides in Paris, where he lived for more than 20 years until his death.
De Damery was well acquainted not only with the Royal engraver Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808) whose circle of artists Hackert had joined immediately after his arrival in Paris 1765, but also with Hackerts friend and pupil Balthasar Anton Dunker (1746-1807), the nephew of Hackerts first patron Olthof, who was his fellow-traveller during his journey from Stralsund to Paris. It is presumed that Hackert came to know de Damery together with his friend Dunker in the Wille-circle and that his gouaches found the appreciation of the French collector. As Vronique Meyer informs us, de Damery had eight works by Hackert in his collection, which were all engraved. As we read in the inscription of de Monchys incision, the present gouaches were part of de Damerys collection, too:
Peint Gouache par J. P. Hackert. Grav par De Monchy. Vue de Marieberg Pres de Stockholm [in the second incision Vue en Suede Nommes Swedie-Land]. Grav daprs le Tableau Peint la Gouache par Philippe Hackert. Tir du Cabinet de Mr. le Chevalier De Damery ancien Officier aux Gardes. A Paris chez Demonchy Cloitre S. Benoit au coin de la rue des Mathurins N 347.
The success of the two images finds further confirmation by the fact that one of them was chosen to be recreated by yet another engraver. The little known Italian artist Gaetano Testolini, active in Paris between 1760 and 1795 and London between 1811 and 1818, probably met Hackert also in the artistic circle around Johann Georg Wille in Paris. He executed an engraving after the Gouache with the fayence-fabrique in Marieberg which bares the title Ie vue de Marieberg prs de Stockholm / Peint Gouache par J. P. Hackert / No 3 / Testolini sculp (see ill. 4). Forssman cites another view by the same author, inscribed IIe Vue de Marieberg prs de Stockholm / Nr. 4 / Peint Gouache par J. P. Hackert / Testolini Sculp.
No other engravings by Testolini after Hackerts Swedish motifs are known, but the numbering makes it clear that at least another two must have existed. It is possible that Testolini may also have executed an engraving with the view of the fire in the woods, still to be discovered in a museum or private collection.
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
Text and images provided on request.