Jakob Philipp Hackert 
(Prenzlau 1737-1807 San Piero di Careggio, near Florence)
Jakob Philipp Hackert (Prenzlau 1737-1807 San Piero di Careggio, near Florence)

The St. Gotthard Pass

Jakob Philipp Hackert
(Prenzlau 1737-1807 San Piero di Careggio, near Florence)
The St. Gotthard Pass
signed, dated and inscribed 'Le passage de St Gothardt pres de Gernico. / peint par Ph. Hackert, 1783' (lower right, on the rock)
oil on canvas
66 ¾ x 87 7/8 in. (169.5 x 223.1 cm.)
Painted for Philip Yorke, M.P., later 3rd Earl of Hardwicke (1757-1834), Tyttenhanger Park, Hertfordshire, and by descent through his fourth, and youngest, daughter,
Lady Caroline Harriet Yorke (d. 1873), wife of John Somers Cocks, 2nd Earl Somers (1788-1852), to their son,
Charles, 3rd Earl (and 4th Baron) Somers (1819-1883), Eastnor Castle, Ledbury, Herefordshire, from whom inherited, with Eastnor, by his first cousin once removed,
Philip Reginald Somers Cocks, 5th Baron Somers (1815-1899), and by inheritance though the latter’s great-nephew,
Arthur Herbert Tennyson Somers Cocks, 6th Baron Somers (1887-1944).
Sale room notice
Please note the Literature of this lot should read as below:

C. Nordhoff, Jakob Philipp Hackert: Briefe (1761-1806), Göttingen, 2012, p. 319 and p.730, ill. 12.
A. Weston-Lewis et al., Expanding Horizons : Giovanni Battista Lusieri and the panoramic landscape, Edinburgh, 2012,p. 48, fig. 44.

Please note that the pendant of the present painting is still at Eastnor, and is not the painting at Attingham which is reproduced in the printed catalogue.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair

Lot Essay

This exceptional work by the greatest of eighteenth-century landscape painters has some claim to be the most impressive view of Switzerland of its generation. Jacob Philipp Hackert, who was born at Prenzlau, was the eldest of the painter sons of Philipp Hackert (d. 1768), a successful animal painter. Trained by his father and then in Berlin, he travelled widely from 1762 until 1768 when he went to Italy, settling in Rome where he was based until 1786, then moving to Naples as court painter to King Ferdinand IV. He became a close associate of Goethe, who edited his memoirs, published posthumously in 1811: their outlook to landscape was consonant, and Hackert’s example informed the approach of many key emergent artists.
Hackert shows the approach to the Gotthard Pass from the valley of the Ticino, with the village of Giornico and its two churches, one beside the bridge, the Romanesque San Nicolao, and on the left the church of San Michele, with its original campanile which was heightened during a restoration of 1859. The pass is high up on the left, as—partly covered by cloud—is the Pizzo di Vogorno. This was the main route from western Germany and northern Europe through the Alps; travellers tended to stay either at Giornico or at Hospenthal on the north, German-speaking side. The view is little changed, but for the intrusion of the railway and the motorway leading to the Gotthard Tunnel.
Hackert is known to have visited Giornico in 1778, inscribing three drawings ‘a Giurnico en montant le St. Gothard, 1778’ (C. Nordhoff and H. Reimer, Jakob Philipp Hackert, 1737-1807, Verzeichnis seiner Werke, Berlin, 1994, II, pp. 304-5, nos. 739-41; the first, I, pl. 356), when travelling northwards from Como to Brunnen and the Lake of Lucerne. That he made three drawings at Giornico suggests that Hackert had at least thought of this as a possible subject for a picture. The decision to paint this exceptionally ambitious canvas – matched in size among earlier works only by the Battle of Chesme painted for Catherine the Great in 1771 and two landscapes ordered for the Earl-Bishop of Derry (ibid., nos. 64, 130 and 139) – must, however, have been triggered by a commission from Philip Yorke, who coincidentally probably crossed the Gotthard twice in the year of Hackert’s drawings.
Philip Yorke, later 3rd Earl of Hardwicke (1757-1834), was the elder son of the Hon. Charles Yorke, second son of Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke (1690-1755, the Lord Chancellor who greatly enriched his family. Charles, also a successful lawyer, married the heiress of Tyttenhanger, and by the time that his son Philip set out on the Grand Tour in 1777 it was already evident that he would inherit not only that estate but also Wimpole, his grandfather’s great house in Cambridgeshire. Significantly, he travelled in Italy with a Swiss tutor, Colonel Wittestein, with whom he was painted in Rome by the Polish artist Franciszek Smuglewicz. He also sat to Batoni and, when in Rome, commissioned two large landscapes from Thomas Jones and a set of refined watercolours of the city from Lusieri. It is likely that Yorke crossed the Gotthard Pass twice, returning to Switzerland from Milan after visiting Venice for Ascension Day in 1778 and when going back to Milan in August. When he finally went north in 1779, he crossed by the Mont Cenis. In view of his patronage of landscapists when in Rome, it must be presumed that Yorke saw works by Hackert who was based there at the time of his visit to Rome. That a picture of Lake Avernus (fig. 1) was subsequently ordered as a companion to this picture suggests that he also was aware of the painter’s successful views of Naples and its environs, which he himself toured early in 1779.
Letters now in the British Library imply that this picture had been ordered by the end of 1782. A letter of 25 January 1783 establishes that Yorke, before leaving Rome, had ordered two pictures: ‘J’ai commencé selon Vos orders Monsieur un Tableau qui represente une Vuë de la Suisse le paysage de St. Gotthard pres de Guernico, j’ai fini l’Esquise il-y-a du Tems, et le Tableau en grand est ebauché’ (British Library, MS. 35.641, fol. 47-8 and 61-2). The artist had himself selected the subject of the pendant, Lake Avernus, which he considered would make ‘un grand Contraste avec celui de la Suisse, qui represente une belle horreure de la Nature’: 'On voit les Montagnes couvert de Neige qui se perd dans les Nouages. Des precipices, et le Tessin [the river Ticino] qui se perd dans les precipices, le devant est orné avec une troupe de Mulets qui passent Chargé de Merchandise et de quelques Vaches rouges &.'.
While the Lake Avernus would be finished in fifteen days, the painter hoped that the Gotthard, which had been begun over three months earlier, would be ready by the end of March. Hackert expressed his gratitude that Yorke had confirmed (‘renouveller’) his order for the two pictures, though the cicerone James Byres; and explained that his delay in undertaking the commission was due to working in Russia for two years for the Grand duke of Russia and on nine pictures for King Ferdinand IV of the Two Sicilies. In a further letter of 5 April, Hackert stated explicitly that the subject had been chosen by Yorke (‘une vue de la Suisse selon Votre desir du St. Gothard’). English visitors who had seen it commented that they had never seen a Swiss view ‘avec tant de grandeur’ or ‘tant de verité’; and Hackert hoped that it would have the same effect on his patron. The picture was nearly ready (‘il n-y a pas grand Chose a retoucher’), and, if Yorke so instructed, it would be safe to pack this in May.
Although Hackert’s royal commissions had led to a long delay in achieving Yorke’s commission, he clearly was proud of the picture, which must be seen in a wider context of the dawn of interest in the Alps, of de Saussure’s ascent of Mont Blanc and Francis Towne’s watercolours of glaciers, and of the intellectual contributions of, among others, Burke and Goethe, that helped to fire the Romantic movement. The juxtaposition of Yorke’s two pictures was absolutely deliberate: the view of Lake Avernus with its classical associations exemplified what the northern visitor sought to see in Italy, while for the painter and for Yorke this depiction of the approach to the Gotthard represented both their return northwards and the previously unrecognised grandeur of the Alps.
Hackert’s satisfaction with the composition is demonstrated by the existence of a substantially reduced version, measuring 64.5 by 88.5 cm., which is also signed and dated 1783. Incorrectly assumed to have been the picture supplied to Yorke, this was sold at Sotheby’s 6 June 2012, lot 73 and appears in C. Nordhoff and C. de Seta’s catalogue raisonné of the artist with detailed information referring to this lot (Naples, 2005, no. 48, p. 158).

More from Old Masters Evening Sale

View All
View All