August Matthias Hagen (1794–1878) – Deutschbaltische Landschaftsmalerei zwischen romantischem Aufbruch und provinzieller Selbstgenügsamkeit


  • Gerd-Helge Vogel



August Matthias Hagen, Baltendeutsche Landschaftsmalerei, Romantik, Biedermeier, Zeichenschule Dorpat


August Matthias Hagen (1794–1878) – Baltic German Landscape Painting Between Romantic Beginnings and Provincial Self-Sufficiency

The art of August Matthias Hagen (1794–1878), once a drawing instructor at Tartu University, was previously almost unknown beyond the borders of Estonia. Awareness of his works came about thanks to the exhibitions in Hamburg (2006) and in Amsterdam (2008), which also brought with them an opportunity for a new assessment of his art. It became evident from the drawings and paintings shown in these galleries that the work he created in the mid 1830’s – depicting landscape views of Southern Finland – reveal a great affinity with the aesthetics and spirit of Dresden Romanticism from the circle of Caspar David Friedrich. This essay not only focuses on the debt Hagen’s mature work owes to painters like C. D. Friedrich, Carl Gustav Carus, and Johan Christian Clausen Dahl, but it also intends to show how the Romantic spirit of such Dresden artists from the early 19th century came, at least for a certain period of time, to influence A. M. Hagen’s art. Without a doubt, Wassilij Andrewitsch Shukowski – a poet, the Russian Zarewich’s personal tutor, and Hagen’s fellow student at the Drawing School of Tartu University – was the primary connection between A. M. Hagen and Dresden’s art milieu. Hagen not only became acquainted with individual works done by Friedrich via Shukowski, but also through the painting collection of Tartu Professor Johann Christian Moyer and from the theoretical fundaments of the Romantic Erdlebenbild – a concept included in Carl Gustav Carusʼ treatise: Ten Letters about Landscape Painting, (second edition 1835). The drawings and paintings commissioned by the Czar reflect Hagen’s intense studies of Carusʼ theory of Romantic landscape painting, particularly in those works showing views of Finland – like the island of Hogland, territory which had been recently acquired by the Russian Empire. Yet A. M. Hagen soon left behind these Romantic, philosophical ideals involving yearning and redemption. He replaced them with a concept associated with a poetic view of reality clearly embodying J. C. C. Dahl’s Romantic Realism. Thus, Hagen’s art gradually evolved into a quite painstaking, topographically exact rendering of landscapes (vedute) adapted from Dahl’s conception of Romantic Realism. But unlike Dahl’s poetic vision, Hagen practised a more sober realism fully within the Biedermeier spirit. In this way Hagen changed his orientation from Romantic landscape painting conveying mood and meaning towards an idyllic Biedermeier landscape containing an atmosphere of essentially “idealized reality”. This article dealing with the artistic production of the Baltic-German landscape painter August Matthias Hagen includes two aspects of his career: a look back into his early work dating from before his confrontation with Dresden Romantic landscape painting and an overview of his later period – occurring after his return from a study trip to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – a time when he was then more sensitized to newer tendencies in Romantic art. However, in Tartu, Hagen was essentially responsible for fulfilling the university’s curriculum requirements expected from its drawing master: to primarily convey a solid sense of draftsmanship and nurture a sober talent for observation. In addition, because Hagen was isolated from his previous German sources – due to the geographically remote location in the Russian Baltic province – his late landscape paintings lacked a true spiritual profundity. This provincial seclusion from German and Russian art centers caused Hagen’s later work to be characterized by a tendency to unspectacular self-sufficiency which made no real effort to maintain connections with newer developments in the more modern, avant-garde trends that subsequently occurred in European art.


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Author Biography

Gerd-Helge Vogel

(geb. 1951), Dozent für Kunstgeschichte und wissenschaftliche Illustration sowie Projektleiter an der Zürcher Hochschule der Künste und an der Ernst-Moritz-Arndt-Universität Greifswald.