JOHANN JAKOB WOLFENSBERGER (1797-1850)
A COUNTRYSIDE VIEW, POSSIBLY NEAR PALERMO, SICILY
Watercolour with pencil
17.5 x 25.5 cm
With the Canon Gallery, Oundle
Wolfensberger studied first in Zurich, with Heinrich Füessli (known as Fuseli in Britain) between 1814-1817, before travelling to Italy. He settled in Naples, and worked in the city for several years, making at least one trip to Sicily during this period. He had moved to Rome by 1825, where he befriended the director of the French Academy, Horace vernet. He found employment in Rome as the drawing teacher to the Marquess of Northampton, Spencer Compton, who would go on to become President of the Royal Society in London.
Wolfensberger returned briefly to Zürich in 1829, where he lived with the painter Johann Conrad Zeller, before he returned to Rome the following year. Something of a nomad, the artist emmigrated to Athens in 1832, where he remained until 1835, to work for the French envoy to Greece, the Baron de Rouen and the Austrian Baron Prokesch von Osten. He made trips to Smyrna, Constantinople and Malta in 1834, and the following year settled for two years in Naples, making further visits to Pompeii and Paestum.
In 1838 an exhibition of two hundred of Wolfensberger’s views in Italy and Greece was held in Zürich. With the financial support of the Swiss bibliophile, scholar and collector Martin Bodmer, further exhibitions of his work took place in Vienna, Paris and London. Wolfensberger’s visit to London in 1840 led to a commission from the publisher Henry Fisher for a print series of Italian and Greek views, published in that year and engraved by J. Sands. Wolfensberger met his future wife on this visit, and their marriage in 1841 apparently ensured the artist’s financial security. His wife, Hannah Burdon, was a successful novelist who published under several names from 1836-1866.
Wolfensberger continued to make sketching trips around Europe; visiting Italy in 1843, Switzerland in 1844, and England and Scotland in 1846. Four years after his death from encephalitis in 1850, a biography of the artist was published by his widow.