Jakob Wilhelm Mechau (1745-1808)

H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K
Jun 13, 2018 11:56AM

A saxon painter of italian landscapes and etcher of ruins.

Jacob Wilhelm Mechau
The Ponte Salario, 1793
H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K

A saxon artist

Only a few art historians have dealt with the life of Jakob Wilhelm Mechau, who has become known for his classicistic views of Italy and Saxony, captured by the currents of romanticism and the age of sentiment. In addition to corresponding catalogue entries on Mechau's works, which are in private and museum collections throughout Germany, only Anke Fröhlich-Schauseil has dealt with the biography of the artist, whose essay to the artists 200th anniversary and contribution to the General Dictionary of Artists (Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon) are the core of this short life description.

Jakob Wilhelm Mechau was born on 16 January 1745 as the son of a Leipzig council accountant and, coming from a privileged family, was soon allowed to begin an education in the fine arts with the painters Benjamin Calau (1724-1785) and Adam Friedrich Oeser (1717-1799). When the Seven Years‘ War raged in Saxony in 1756 and Mechau‘s teacher retired to the countryside, the young artist followed his studies in Berlin at the Royal Prussian Academy of the Arts. It was only after the war in 1763 that Mechau returned to Leipzig. At the newly founded art academy he worked with his former teacher Oeser - albeit without a teaching position of his own - and contributed to artistic social life.

Still committed to artistic development, Mechau studied the works of the old and new masters, which he was allowed to see in the collection of the banker Gottfried Winckler (1731-1795). Numerous copies were made in the form of etchings. In 1773, for example, he worked on a great series of etchings after the German painter Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, called Dietricy (1712-1774) with Dutch landscapes. Even before his trip to Rome in 1776, Mechau was occupied with the painting of historical scenes, landscapes and portraits as well as the design of literary illustrations, which he conceived in cooperation with several Leipzig publishers. This work recalls the activity of the artist Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (1726-1801), who at about the same time became famous for his classicist figure scenes.

Jacob Wilhelm Mechau
The Drusus arch at the Porta San Sebastiano in Rome, field side, 1794
H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K

Living in Rome

In 1776, with the friendly mediation of the director of the Academy of Art, Christian Ludwig von Hagedorn (1712-1780), Jakob Wilhelm Mechau received a travel grant from the Bavarian Electorate, which enabled him to travel to Rome together with his friend Heinrich Friedrich Füger (1751-1818), where he devoted himself especially to landscape painting. After von Hagedorn's death, Mechau was ordered back to Germany by the newly appointed General Director of the Arts Count Camillo Marcolini (1739-1814), without, however, being entrusted with a corresponding position at one of Saxony's art academies. Since 1775 he was a member of the Leipzig Academy, but was never employed as a teacher of the arts. He therefore returned to illustration work for publishing houses and created landscapes on his own. It was not until 1790, after the death of both parents, that the artist moved back to Rome. Again he dealt with the beauty of Italian views, which he vivified with the detailed examination of ancient ruins as well as idyllic figures. The artist received a major commission when he was appointed in 1792 by his friend Johann Christian Reinhart and the Nürnberg publisher Johann Friedrich Frauenholz to the project of the graphic series of the Mahlerisch radirten Prospecte von Italien.

Mechau, who by the contrast tot he other two artists had some experience in the art of printmaking, was to create 24 views of the 72 pages with landscapes and so far little-noticed sights and natural spectacles in the Campagna Romana. Apparently Mechau had discovered the art of printmaking for himself and during his time in Rome he created further etched series and aquatint etchings with Italian motifs. However, he never let painting out of his sight and until 1798 he also created landscapes, some of which even took up literary themes and let the influence of the artist's illustration work become evident. With the occupation of Rome by Napoleonic troops, Jacob Wilhelm Mechau left the eternal city and returned to his home in Saxony.

Jacob Wilhelm Mechau
Two hunters at Subiaco, 1793
H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K

Back in Dresden, the artist quickly found his way back into the circle of artists there and worked as a landscape painter until the end of his life. He now drew his inspiration more strongly from the saxon nature, which he partly filled with bucolic figures or animated with biblical scenes. Although the works from his youth still corresponded to a late Baroque understanding of the landscape, they now pointed, through the influence of Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) and Jakob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807) as well as Mechau's individual life experience, innovatively in the direction of Late Classicism. His graphic work was also appreciated and taken as an example by the young representatives of Romanticism. Jakob Wilhelm Mechau died in Dresden on 14 March 1808 at the age of 63.

Benedikt Ockenfels


Recommended Reading

  • H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel (Hrsg.): Spaziergänge in Italien (Gedruckte Kunst), Frankfurt am Main 1994.
  • Carlo F. Schmid: Naturansichten und Ideallandschaften. Die Landschaftsgraphik von Johann Christian Reinhart und seinem Umkreis, Berlin 1998.
  • Anke Fröhlich-Schauseil: "...er folgte seinem eigenen Genius...". Dem Landschaftsmaler Jakob Wilhelm Mechau (1745-1808) zum 200. Todestag, in Dresdener Kunstblätter 1, 2008, S. 4-15.
H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K