Jakob Philip HACKERT

(Prenzlau 1737 – Florence 1807)

Landscape close to Sessa Aurunca, 1794

Pen and pencil on paper, 568 x 697 mm
Signed, dated and inscribed, lower left: a Sessa 1794./Filippo Hackert. f.

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. 27. 

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.


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 drawing under discussion here, that dates back to the years in which Hackert was at the court of King Ferdinand IV of Naples.  It shows a waterfall bordered by thick clumps of poplar in the vicinity of the small village of Sessa Aurunca on the slopes of the Monte Santa Croce, an extinct volcano close to Roccamonfina to the north of Naples.  The Via Appia, which the artist frequently took when travelling from Rome to Naples, runs right through the village.  Hackert visited Sessa Aurunca for the first time in 1792 and returned two years later in the king's entourage when Ferdinando chose it as the venue for a military exercise which Hackert, in his capacity as court painter, was to record in a large canvas dated 1794[1]. As we can see from this drawing, the artist also used the time that he spent in Sessa Aurunca to explore the surrounding area, coming upon this waterfall.  Another drawing, made in the same year and now in Berlin, shows the houses and churches of Sessa Aurunca in the background while in the foreground we see a road – probably the Via Appia – with peasants walking along it [2]. Hackert touched up this latter drawing using a paintbrush and thus impating a more finished feel to it, which suggests that he may have been thinking of selling it on the art market.  In any event, it appears that he hung on to both the Berlin drawing and the drawing under discussion here almost until his death because he used both again in 1806 as models for a painting depicting the village of Sessa Aurunca in the background and the waterfall edged with poplar trees in the foreground [3].

The drawing provides 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 drawing is 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 drawing may seem unfinished at first sight, its 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."[4]

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 drawing, which belongs to the first group of his sketches and thus to his precious image archive, may therefore be considered important for that fact alone, yet it gains in importance if we consider its 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 drawing under discussion here.  Its belonged to a group of thirty-two 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 [5].
The group of thirty-two drawings from which our sketche originally hails 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 thirty-two 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 thirty-two 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 drawing under discussion here lies not only in its being excellent example of Hackert's skill and talent as an artist but also in its history and in its association with Goethe and with the Weimar court.  Thus we may confidently conclude that it can be labelled a valuable addition to the catalogue of Jakob Philipp Hackert. 

Rome, 1 February 2016                                                                                    Dr. Claudia Nordhoff

[1] Jakob Philipp Hackert, "Military Exercises in the Sessa Aurunca Area". Caserta, Reggia. Oil on canvas, 140 x 218 cm., inscribed Campo d'Istruzione di Fanteria, e Cavalleria in S:a M:a della Piana alle adjacenze di Sessa, eseguito nel Mese di Maggio dell'Anno 1794. dipinse Filippo Hackert.  See Nordhoff/Reimer 1994, II, entry 251; de Seta/Nordhoff 2005, entry 97. 

[2] Jakob Philipp Hackert, "View of Sessa Aurunca". Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett.  Pen and brush in brown, 52.4 x 74.1 cm., inscribed a Sessa 1794 / Filippo Hackert. dl.  See Nordhoff/Reimer 1994, II, entry 864; de Seta/Nordhff 2005, p. 198..

[3] Jakob Philipp Hackert, "View of Sessa Aurunca".  Private collection. Oil on canvas, 64 x 94.5 cm., inscribed Phi Hackert 1806.  The picture was sold along with another three paintings by the Lempertz auction house in Cologne on 16 November 2014, n. 1502.

[4] Lettera dal 10 maggio 1803 a Weimar, Goethe- und Schiller-Archiv. Citata da 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.”

[5] 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).