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Work Study of Trees at the Edge of a Precipice

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Etude d'arbres sur des rochers

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Grollemund Hélène

Jakob Philipp Hackert was born in Germany and traveled in Sweden and France before settling in Italy. There he enjoyed a measure of success with his paintings of idealized landscapes. This remarkable drawing testifies to his interest in "mutilated nature" and his keen observation of natural surroundings, free of any academic preconceptions. The bold composition presages German Romanticism.

A traveling landscape artist

Jakob Philipp Hackert was initially trained by his father, who then sent him to his uncle in Berlin, where he continued his education at the academy of art. After several journeys, notably to Sweden and France, he went to Italy for the first time in 1768 and visited Sicily and Switzerland. He then lived mainly in Rome until 1786, when he set off for Naples. There he was the court painter to Ferdinand IV until the arrival of the French army in 1799. His Italian vedute were highly appreciated throughout Europe and his fame was increased by his friendship with Goethe, whom he met in Naples in 1787. In his Journey to Italy, Goethe speaks forcibly of his esteem for Hackert, who gave him drawing lessons.

Paris and Wille

In May 1765, Hackert moved to Paris with Balthasar Anton Dunker. There he met the famous engraver Johann Georg Wille (1715-1808) and became his pupil and friend. Hackert enjoyed immediate success and invited his brother Johann Gottlieb to join him. The two brothers lived and worked together in Paris for three years, venturing into Normandy and Picardy and supplying a wide public with the small gouache landscapes which were very fashionable at the time. Hackert's time in France had a decisive influence on his career, both through his experiments with a variety of different techniques (pencil, watercolor and gouache) and through his contacts with contemporary art theories, thanks to Wille and the renowned painter of landscapes and seascapes Claude-Joseph Vernet.

Nature in detail

In this Study of Trees, which covers almost the entire sheet, Hackert has not only drawn the vegetation with minute attention to detail, but has also explored the relationship between the sandy cliff and the tangled roots, presenting the whole in a daring composition. This careful observation of nature isolated from its context is characteristic of Hackert's work, and he came back to it throughout his career. There is another version of this drawing in Krakow (Czartoryskich Museum), and the same motif appears in a red chalk drawing made in 1767 by his brother Johann Gottlieb (now in the Kupferstichkabinett, Berlin), which reveals a similar interest in tree roots and an equally striking composition. The two works are very similar and were certainly executed in France before the two artists set off for Italy in August 1768.


Sérullaz (Calvet) Arlette, notice 178, in Le Cabinet d'un Grand Amateur P.-J. Mariette 1694-1774: Dessins du XVe siècle au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1967.
Starcky Emmanuel, in Le Paysage en Europe du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1989-1990, n 158.
Schulze Altcappenberg Hein-Th., "Quelques paysagistes allemands à Paris: Jean-Georges Wille, Jakob Philipp Hackert, Balthasar Anton Dunker et Adrian Zingg", in Le Paysage en Europe du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1994, pp. 233-54
Nordhoff Claudia et Reimer Hans, Jakob Philipp Hackert, 1737-1807: Verzeichnis seiner Werke, Berlin, Akademie Verl., 1994, Bd II, n 588.

Technical description

  • Jakob Philipp HACKERT (Prenzlau, 1737 - San Piero di Careggio, 1807)

    Study of Trees at the Edge of a Precipice

  • Red chalk

    H. 35.2 cm; W. 47.3 cm

  • INV 18689

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Lower left, in pen and ink: Jacq. P. Hackert; dated in red chalk: 1768.