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Jakob Christoph Miville (1786–1863)

A Basel Landscape Painter between Rome and St Petersburg

November 16, 2013 – February 16, 2014

Kunstmuseum Basel, St Alban-Graben 16, CH-4010 Basel

This exhibition marks the rediscovery of an exceptional Swiss Romantic landscape artist. A skilled draughtsman and watercolourist, Jakob Christoph Miville was a well-travelled artist, but his finest work is undoubtedly the body of sketches of landscapes and plants made in the Jura hills, close to his native Basel, now in the Kunstmuseum Basel collection. However, this exhibition brings these delightful studies together with his more lucrative oils now in Russian museums.

Miville studied in Rome between 1805 and 1807, where the so-called German Romans Joseph Anton Koch and Johann Christian Reinhart opened his eyes to nature and taught him to go beyond the classic Claudian repertoire. Armed with English watercolour techniques and French oil-sketching skills, he painted a series of vivid Alpine scenes on his return home to Switzerland but failed to find a market for them. In 1809, he decided to try his luck in Russia, with some success, working initially as a draughtsman and surveyor for Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov (father of two of Catherine the Great’s children). From 1811, he taught at a boarding school set up in St Petersburg by the pastor J. von Muralt (1770-1850).

In 1814, he toured Crimea, where he would have found escarpments strikingly similar to the hills around Basel (and no doubt not a few hoteliers from Zurich). Some of his most accomplished oils are thus of famous Crimean beauty spots such as Chufut Kale and Mangup Kale. He sold forty of these landscapes, based on his sketches and painted on his return to Basel in 1816, to a Russian collector in 1819.

A dramatic view of Chufut Kale, from the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg, graces the cover of the Kunstmuseum catalogue, sadly available only in German.

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