'Jakob Philipp Hackert: Europas Landschaftsmaler der Goethezeit': Neues Museum and Schiller Museum, Weimar

By Morris, Susan | British Art Journal, Autumn 2008 | Go to article overview

'Jakob Philipp Hackert: Europas Landschaftsmaler der Goethezeit': Neues Museum and Schiller Museum, Weimar


Morris, Susan, British Art Journal


In the mid-18th century the Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach was a model Enlightenment state, presided over by the formidable Anna Amalia as regent for her young son Karl August. Goethe lived there from 1775 until his death in 1832, Schiller between 1787 and 1805. Philosophy, art, music and theatre flourished. Weimar Classicism was predicated upon the dream of Italy, which Goethe visited from 1786 to 1788, pursuing his passion for drawing as well as poetic and amorous adventures. It is fitting therefore that Weimar should stage the largest-ever exhibition of landscapes by Jakob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807), Goethe's mentor.

Goethe was mad about the man, writing a short biography of Hackert in which he enthused about his intense response to nature. Turner was later sniffy about the Germanic literalness of his approach, but Hackert enchanted the Grand Tourists and expats of his day, notably Sir William Hamilton, who knew Hackert well when Hamilton was British Ambassador and Hackert Court Painter to the Bourbons of Naples. One of the most haunting images in the exhibition is of the delicious, green coolness of The English Garden at Caserta, 1793 (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), on the layout of which Hamilton advised. The Palace itself- too big and blocklike--is moved politely to one side and fringed with trees, giving it a more informal, English air.

The 80 oil paintings on view at the Neues Museum, Weimar's 19th-century palace of art, triumphantly vindicate Hackert's vision. The organizers have been able to borrow vast canvases from Caserta and the Hermitage collections, and have the big spaces and natural light to show them to advantage. Acknowledging that Hackert's style did not develop much once he had hit his mature manner, the show is hung thematically. A rawly energetic early work is the night scene Battle of Chesme, 1771 (Hermitage, St Petersburg), one of a series painted by Hackert for Catherine the Great to celebrate Alexei Orlov's blowing the Turkish fleet to kingdom come with fireships in June 1770. Orlov had a hulk stuffed with gunpowder and blown up for Hackert's benefit, so that he could exactly capture the effects. Hackert was an acute observer of nature by night: one of the finest works in the show is the moonlit Fisherfolk round a camp fire on a stormy seashore, 1778 (Museum Georg Schafer, Schweinfurt), with a beautiful vignette of a girl holding up a cloth before the blaze. …

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