Johann Christian Reinhart (1761-1847)

H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K
Jun 13, 2018 11:50AM

A german-roman artist with a sharp eye for drawn and etched details in plants, animals and architecture.

Johann Christian Reinhart
The ancient theatre in Albano Laziale, 1792
H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel e.K

From simple environment

Johann Christian Reinhart was born on 24 January 1761 in the Upper Franconian Hof. His father Peter Johann Reinhart (1717-1764) was a studied Magister and preacher at the St. Michaelis Church in Hof. Coming from a family in which for many generations the craft of the slater was learned and passed on, the father of the artist was the first family member to whom not only the attendance of the local grammar school but beyond that the study of theology and philosophy in Leipzig was made possible. The marriage with Magdalena Wilhelmina Friderica, née Müller (1730-1784), daughter of a lawyer, consolidated the social rise of the Reinhart family, which also helped the young Johann Christian to a education at a grammar school and studies at a university. After attending the "German" school of Thomas Erdmann Helfrecht, from 1768 Reinhart attended the grammar school in Hof, where his father already had studied. It seems, however, that the boy only took part in the lessons with lesser diligence, as he had only completed the four classes of the school after ten years. In 1778 Reinhart left school and his hometown to study theology in Leipzig. In the title of his graduation speech at the Gymnasium about the Nutzen der in geistlichen Sachen wohl eingerichteten Malkunst one can guess the passion for art that had to give way in theological studies to the prospect of earning a secure living. In Leipzig Reinhart met Adam Friedrich Oeser (1717-1799), the director of the University Academy at the Pleissenburg, and took drawing lessons during this time. Received in the artist's house, Reinhart had his first introduction to art, whereby the study of another scholar, Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), the famous German archaeologist and lover of classical antiquity, made a lasting impression on him. A short time later, in 1781, Reinhart himself gave courses in drawing and painting.

In 1783 Johann Christian Reinhart left Leipzig and went to the residential city of Dresden, which had grown into an important art metropolis since the middle of the 18th century and housed a considerable collection of copies or originals of antique art as well as masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. In Dresden Reinhart studied with the landscape painter Johann Christian Klengel (1751-1824) and surprisingly kept only loose contact with the Academy of Drawing and Fine Arts. As at that time, the training of the artist consisted in particular in the study of the old masters and the imitation of the painting style already considered ideal. The Dresden picture gallery offered Reinhart plenty of models, which he copied conscientiously and on which he trained himself in style according to the principles of these patterns. However, the young artist also took many walks and hikes in the surroundings on which he never missed the sketchbook in which he captured studies of the nature of landscapes and animals.

Maybe provoked by the death of the mother in March 1784, an almost restless wandering through the regions of the Vogtland, Saxony, Thuringia, Bohemia and along the Rhine followed in the years after. Again he always had the sketchbook about him and seems to have eagerly made drawings and watercolours. A letter to a friend from 1784 suggests that his constant mobility has given him intensive experiences of nature and consequently new views of landscape art. Reinhart's biographer Dieter Richter emphasises Reinhart's endeavour to "not allow nature to be experienced indirectly from second hand, from what is written or painted, but in a direct, often unexpected encounter with wind and weather" (Richter 2010, p. 41). In 1784 Reinhart met the countess Elisa von der Recke in Karlovy Vary and joined her as a travel companion. The acquaintance with her, who had fallen into disrepute due to the separation from her husband, was intended to enable the artist to make contact with aristocratic society and also to secure the patronage of future journeys.

Johann Christian Reinhart
The Ponte L'Acquoria in Tivoli, 1798
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All roads lead to Rome

Through the mediation of the countess Elisa von der Recke, Reinhart came to the court of Duke George I of Saxony-Meiningen (1761-1803) in the autumn of 1786 and served Elisa's brother as court painter. The artist spent his time at court in friendship with his sovereign and with the growing self-confidence of a respected artist who had managed the social rise from the simple businessman to the higher circles of society. In 1787 Reinhart accompanied the Duke on a trip to the Rhine, but he also assisted him on further journeys as artistic Adlatus. Reinhart had not been at all lulled by this comfortable way of life and travelling. For years he had had the urgent desire to visit Italy like the scholars and noblemen of the 18th century. A scholarship from Margrave Carl Alexander von Ansbach-Bayreuth, which he received in the autumn of 1788, made this wish possible. In October of the following year he started the journey and rode from Meiningen to Vienna, not without visiting his hometown Hof again. On 23 December 1789, the day before Christmas Eve, Reinhart reached the eternal city of Rome. The artist found his first apartment in the district around Piazza di Spagna, famous for its lively tourism, especially from the northern Alpine countries. In the following more than 50 years, despite several moves in his neighbourhood, Rome was to become his home.

Soon Reinhart began to fill further sketchbooks in Rome. The newcomer was particularly interested in everyday life and studies on humans and animals. The artist followed the life of the German-Roman society and made friendships with artists such as Carl Ludwig Fernow (1763-1808) and Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839). After recording the first impressions of his new hometown, Reinhart began to make excursions to the surrounding countryside, visited the Alban Hills and discovered the Campagna Romana. On one of the walks Reinhart discovered the Cervara Grottoes, a system of caves originating from an ancient quarry, which in later years were to become the centre of the spring festival of Cervara. The artist's extravagant life calmed down around 1800 with his marriage to the roman Anna Caffò and the birth of his first daughter in 1804.

Johann Christian Reinhart
Ruin of the Maxentius Villa on the Via Appia near Rome, 1797
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The situation in Rome meant that Reinhart mainly turned to printmaking in his artistic work. To the confessing Protestant it seemed impossible to obtain major or even public contracts in the capital of the Catholic Papal State. Observing the art market, which was increasingly influenced by the rise of the ranks, Reinhart shifted his focus from painting to printmaking, which offered itself as a cheap art form that was easy to reproduce even in higher editions. From 1792 Reinhart was also in contact with the Nürnberg art dealer and publisher Johann Friedrich Frauenholz, with whom he had a profitable collaboration. The publisher played an important role as a sponsor and as an important support in the distribution of his works of art - especially in the artist's home country of Germany. Already in the year of the first contact, Reinhart submitted the idea of the Mahlerisch radirten Prospecte von Italien, which should show nature and landscape of the country in large-format representations and also include so far little known views, to the publisher. Moreover, the claim, which was also reflected in the title, was not merely to show pictures of sights and regions, as they were disseminated in large numbers by reproduction engravers, but to carefully compose rare and picturesque views by painters.

Accordingly, the three participating artists Albert Christoph Dies, Jakob Wilhelm Mechau and Johann Christian Reinhart were explicitly chosen because they were trained painters, who could at best demonstrate experience in the field of graphics. For the painters, however, it was an obvious choice to choose the etching technique, which, in contrast to copper and steel engraving, allowed free processing of the motif in sweeping - painterly - strokes. Until 1798, the three artists produced 72 views that show natural landscapes and ancient ruins in the region of the Campagna Romana in an ideal environment and were designed for sale as souvenirs to travellers to Italy and as a yearning insight into a distant country on the German art market.

Just as the Mahlerisch radirten Prospecte von Italien despite the broader claim mainly show the vast region around Rome, they seem to reflect Reinhart's own lifestyle. The artist, whose 50th anniversary of his residence in the eternal city of Rome was celebrated in December 1839, was counts as one of the German-Italians who had the longest stay in Rome. Until his death on 9 June 1847 Reinhart remained faithful to his new hometown and was buried on the Cimitero Acattolico. But this rootedness even applied to the artist's excursions, who hardly ever embarked on extensive journeys within Italy. Although the area around Naples, which was not particularly far from Rome, was especially revered by his contemporaries, it was not until 1804 that he had himself instigated by his friend Josef Abel (1764-1818) and again in 1805 by his old friend Elisa von der Recke to take a joint trip to Naples. After short periods of time Reinhart returned to Rome. Both times he was disappointed and seemed to want to express his rejection not least by the lack of sketches and drawings.

Johann Christian Reinhart
Ruins of the Library of Villa des Hadrian, 1798
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With a sharp eye

Reinhart doesn't seem to have drawn with a pencil very often in Rome either. Inge Feuchtmayr speculates as possible reason the more intensive occupation with the art of etching. This technique might have taken the artist‘s pleasure in the elaborated drawing with the high demands on details and finest lines. Rather, he produced quick sketches and studies that could easily have been used for painting or etching. In addition, Reinhart was soon regarded as one of the most important landscape painters in Rome, whose Arcadian landscapes characterized the most precise observations of nature and lovingly worked out small figures. Reinhart's work is also characterized by the depiction of trees, which are portrayed with a high degree of accuracy. Even compared to other artists in the late 18th century and influenced by the scientific interest of society, small and large plants in the work of Reinhart are correctly represented down to the smallest detail. With the same attention to detail, he approached the depiction of animals, which often only appear in his pictures as an accessory. They only came to the fore in several etched series explicitly devoted to animals.

Not least the architecture found rich expression in the works of Johann Christian Reinhart. Regarding the Italy enthusiastic audience in Germany and the archaeological societies, Reinhart sought the precise depiction of Roman tombs and ancient monuments. As impressive testimonies of past centuries, he implemented them aesthetically and not without a slight pathetic overhaul, but always based these depictions on exact measurements and views of the buildings.

His artistic work, influenced by painterly etched views in a naturalistic manner and heroically idealized landscape painting in classicist style, did not change significantly after the stylistic finding in the first years of life. Nonetheless, his success was secured through orders and sales even into old age. During his work in Rome Reinhart participated actively in public and cultural life and was admitted to the Accademia di San Luca in 1813. He had been in contact with the art-loving Crown Prince of Bavaria, later Ludwig I, since 1818, and was to be promoted and supported in Rome as a gifted German artist in his efforts. He wasn’t appointed as Bavarian court painter until 1825, but in the following decades he was extensively protected by the Royal House and supplied with commissions, among which especially the views from the Villa Malta are worth mentioning. Thought for the residence in München, Reinhart was to depict the all around view from the villa of King Ludwig I.. Over a period from 1829 to 1836, the artist dealt with this monumental commission, which shows an impressive, realistic and yet dreamy view of the city and which could certainly have been regarded as a proof of love by Reinhart for Rome as his new elected home. Shortly after midnight on 9 June 1847 Johann Christian Reinhart died at the age of 86 in Rome.

Benedikt Ockenfels

Recommended reading

  • H. W. Fichter Kunsthandel (Hrsg.): Spaziergänge in Italien (Gedruckte Kunst), Frankfurt am Main 1994.
  • Inge Feuchtmayr: Johann Christian Reinhart. 1761-1847. Monographie und Werkverzeichnis (Materialien zur Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts, 15), Passau 1975.
  • Dieter Richter: Von Hof nach Rom. Johann Christian Reinhart. Ein deutscher Maler in Italien. Eine Biographie, Berlin 2010.
  • Carlo F. Schmid: Naturansichten und Ideallandschaften. Die Landschaftsgraphik von Johann Christian Reinhart und seinem Umkreis, Berlin 1998.
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