Jakob Philip HACKERT

(Prenzlau 1737 – Florence 1807)

View of the Valdinievole from Collodi, 1802

Pen and pencil on paper
552 x 747 mm
Signed, dated and inscribed in pen and brown ink lower right:  La val 'di Nievoli presa da Collodi / Filippo Hackert f. 1802.

Legacy of Jakob Philipp Hackert; Karoline Luise of Saxony Weimar Eisenach (1786–1816); Helene of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1814–58); Henri Robert Ferdinand Marie Louis Philippe d'Orléans, Comte de Paris (1908–99); auction in Paris, Drouot Richelieu (Raymond de Nicolay, Christian Delorme, Vincent Fraysse), 30 October 2000, Souvenirs historiques provenant de la Succession de Monseigneur le Prince Henri d'Orléans Comte de Paris, no. 28. For their earlier provenance see the essay below

General bibliography for Hackert:  
Claudia Nordhoff/Hans Reimer, Jakob Philipp Hackert 1737–1807. Verzeichnis seiner Werke. 2 vols., Berlio 1994. - Cesare de Seta/Claudia Nordhoff, Hackert. Naples 2005. – Catalogue of the exhibition entitled Jakob Philipp Hackert, la linea analitica della pittura di paesaggio in Europa, curated by Cesare de Seta, Caserta, Reggia, 2007. - Catalogue of the exhibition entitled Jakob Philipp Hackert, Europas Landschaftsmaler der Goethezeit, curated by Andreas Stolzenburg, Weimar, Neues Museum, Hamburg, Kunsthalle, 2008. - Claudia Nordhoff (Hrsg.), Jakob Philipp Hackert, Briefe (1761–1806). Gottingen 2012, p. 612.


After studying in Berlin and then spending three years in Paris, Jakob Philipp Hackert arrived in Rome in the winter of 1768.  He immediately began to visit picture galleries and ancient ruins, and to explore the city's outskirts, journeying for instance to the Colli Albani, the Monti Sabini and the hills around Tivoli.  His views soon become very popular, and by about 1780 Hackert had become the best-known and most sought-after landscape artist not only in Rome but anywhere in Europe.  He made the acquaintance of King Ferdinando IV of Naples, of the House of Bourbon, in 1782 and entered his service as first painter to the court in 1786.  He stayed in Naples, a figure of great honour and esteem, until 1799 when the revolutionary climate prompted him to seek refuge in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.  Settling in Florence, he rebuilt his life thanks to his increasing skill as a painter, and eventually bought a villa with two farms in Careggi on the outskirts of Florence, where he also devoted his time to farming.  He died in Florence on 28 April 1807 and was buried in the non-Catholic cemetery in Leghorn.
Hackert's output as a painter is rooted in the sketches that he made while conducting his trips into the country, a method exemplified by the four drawings under discussion here.  This drawing was made in 1802, when Hackert went on an excursion to Bagni di Lucca.  Travelling across the flat plain between Florence and Pistoia, the artist crossed the Montalbano hills and the foothills of the Appennines to enter the Valdinievole, a valley that runs parallel to the lower Arno valley.  The terrain, which is hilly and given over chiefly to olive groves, stretches from the river Ombrone to the river Serchio.  Our view is taken from near Collodi, a medieval village which is now a suburb of Pescia.  In the foreground, a traveller contemplates the view, stretched out alongside his sleeping dog.  This is undoubtedly an "alter ego" of Hackert, who was a great doglover and who never went anywhere without one or other of his beloved pets.
The four drawings provide impressive evidence of Hackert's skill in "transcribing" the features of a landscape, focusing on the aspects that he considered essential.  In dispensing with such factors as colour and the effect of light and shade, and thus forgoing rendering the plasticity of the objects he depicts, the artist "records" the individual features of the areas through which he travels using only their silhouette, reducing visible reality to a bare graphic structure, yet he still manages to include all the necessary information.  Trees, animals and rock formations are portrayed with intense realism and the observer never doubts that either the individual details depicted or the view as a whole, such as for example the position of the hills in the panorama of the Valdinievole, are anything but an absolutely faithful image of reality.
The drawings are characterised by a crowded succession of different forms that the artist sets against lofty, clear skies, while the presence of rivers and streams is indicated only by empty paper.  Yet another example of Hackert's immense skill, he thus avoids tiring the observer's eye, producing an artistic balance between the world created by his pen and the void deliberately left empty which requires the imagination of the mind's eye for it to be interpreted as sky or as water.  Even though the drawings may seem unfinished at first sight, their freshness and immediacy together with the clear self-assuredness that governs their execution, convinces us that we are looking at self-contained works of art.  That conviction is confirmed by Hackert's signature, placed in every instance in a carefully chosen position along with the date and the name of the locality depicted, as though the artist were trying to tell us that in his view there is nothing further to add to the sketch and that the artistic process may therefore be considered complete.
Hackert might finish his silhouette drawings with a sepia brush in his workshop and sell them to travellers on the art market, but in actual fact he kept many of them with him because in many ways they comprised what we might call his figurative memory.  Writing with satisfaction in his old age to the German poet Wolfgang Goethe (1749–1832), whom he had met in Naples in 1787, he says: 

"I am certainly not wanting for subjects; I have thousands of well-made drawings from nature and so I can claim to have almost the entire Papal States and the Kingdom of Naples in my folders.” [1]

Only some of those "thousands" of sketches have come down to us, which is probably due to the fact that drawings completed with a sepia pen were popular not only with travellers of the time but also with 19th and 20th century collectors, thus we may fear that many of his silhouette drawings have been lost or destroyed.  Our drawings, which belong to the first group of his sketches and thus to his precious image archive, may therefore be considered important for that fact alone, yet they gain in importance if we consider their provenance, which leads directly to Hackert himself.
On Hackert's death, his legacy, including his drawings and paintings, went to his brother-in-law, Berlin Councillor Friedrich Christian Behrendt (1765?–1838) who organised their removal from Florence to Berlin.  This is most likely to be the source of the drawings under discussion here.  They belonged to a group of twenty-four drawings which can be traced back with certainty to the collection of Princess Karoline Luise of Saxony Weimar Eisenach (1786–1816), the daughter of Duke Carl August (1757–1828).  The princess had a passion for drawing and was a dear friend of Goethe, himself a skilled draughtsman and a collector of drawings.  Goethe had been deeply impressed by his meeting with Hackert in 1787, and in his diary he even mentions an excursion in the painter's company to Tivoli, where Hackert acted as his drawing teacher.  There is correspondence pointing to their renewed acquaintance in 1803, and Goethe – who owned many of Hackert's drawings, which may still be seen in Weimar today – subsequently had his friend's autobiographical notes sent to him, filling them out and publishing them in 1811.
Goethe was informed of Hackert's death without delay, in April 1807, by the young painter Wilhelm Titel (1784–1862), who was a guest of the celebrated landscape artist in the last few months of his life and must therefore have heard almost immediately of the opportunity to purchase drawings from the late artist's legacy which Councillor Behrendt had had removed to Berlin.  Behrendt, for his part, had already begun to sell Hackert's work in Florence and he undoubtedly continued to do so in Berlin. [2]
The group of twenty-four drawings from which our four sketches originally hail consists of work from every phase of Hackert's career, thus revealing that he kept them as material for study and that they were therefore in his house when he died.  Moreover, the group contains preparatory studies for a cycle of ports of the Kingdom of Naples commissioned by King Ferdinando IV and which the artist could never have sold because the "copyright" for the cycle was held by the king himself.  And indeed the only other preparatory studies to have survived for this cycle are to be found in the Berlin prints cabinet, which they entered as part of the artist's legacy well after his death.  So we may be almost absolutely certain that the twenty-four drawings purchased by Karoline Luise came from Hackert's legacy and that the purchase was brokered by Goethe, the princess's adviser in matters relating to art and well-informed regarding the practical aspects of his old friend's legacy.
When the princess married Duke Friedrich Ludwig of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1778–1819) in July 1810, she brought the works with her as part of her dowry.  She was later to become a very keen collector of landscape drawings.  After her premature death, the twenty-four drawings were inherited by her daughter Helene Luise Elisabeth of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (1814–58), who married Prince Ferdinand Philippe Louis Charles Henri Rosolin d'Orléans (1810–42) and brought Hackert's works with her to France.  The next owner, her son Robert d'Orléans, duc de Chartres (1840–1910), married his cousin Françoise d'Orléans (1844–1925) and their heir was their son Jean Pierre Clément Maria d'Orléans, duc de Guise (1874–1940) and the husband of Isabelle Marie Laure Mercédès Ferdinande d'Orléans.  The couple were followed by their son Henri Robert Ferdinand Marie Louis Philippe d'Orléans, Comte de Paris (1908–1999).  Hackert's drawings were auctioned off along with other works of art, uniforms, weapons and period costumes, and soon found their way into several different art galleries.
The importance of the four drawings under discussion here lies not only in their being excellent examples of Hackert's skill and talent as an artist but also in their history and in their association with Goethe and with the Weimar court.  Thus we may confidently conclude that they can be labelled a valuable addition to the catalogue of Jakob Philipp Hackert. 

Rome, 1 February 2016                                                                                    Dr. Claudia Nordhoff

[1] Letter datelined Weimar, 10 May 1803, Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv.  Cited by Nordhoff 2012, p. 194:  "An Stof fehlet es mir nicht ich habe Tausende Zeichnungen nach die Natur mit richtigkeit gezeichnet, so das ich sagen kan, das ich beinahe den KirchenStat und daß Königreich Napel u Sicilien in meine Portefeuls habe."

[2] See an article in the Gazzetta Toscana dated 19 September 1807 informing readers of the opportunity to purchase Hackert's work from his heirs, i.e. Behrendt (see Nordhoff 2012, p. 654).