19th Century European Paintings

German Artist Ferdinand Bellermann's Travels in Venezuela

By RICHARD LOWKES

O ur Art of Travel and Exploration sale on 13 December is led by a South American view by the artist-traveller Ferdinand Bellermann. The first finished work from a small series of views of the San Esteban sugar plantation, the work was inspired by Bellermann’s time at the villa, which he described as ‘one of the loveliest of my life’. Depicting the plantation buildings and labour set beside a river valley, the fine depiction of the lush vegetation reveals the influence of the naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, whom Bellermann met before setting off on his journey.

Painted with great attention to detail in terms of flora, topography, and human activity, Bellermann executed the present work within two years of his return to Germany from Venezuela. This is the earliest known oil from a small series depicting one of the artist's favourite subjects: the sugar mill at San Esteban outside Puerto Cabello in northern Venezuela. Its first owner, Georg Blohm, was a German émigré whom Bellermann met shortly after arriving in Venezuela, and it is possible that Blohm expressed an interest in acquiring a painting by the artist at that stage.

Ferdinand Bellermann, View of the harbor of Puerto Cabello from Vihia at sunset, (circa 1842-45), Staatliche Museen, Berlin
Ferdinand Bellermann, View of the harbor of Puerto Cabello from Vihia at sunset, (circa 1842-45), Staatliche Museen, Berlin

After studying under Karl Blechen at the Berlin Academy, Bellermann attracted the attention of the polymath, naturalist, and explorer Alexander von Humboldt, who had travelled in Venezuela in 1799-1800, at the beginning of his legendary expedition to Latin America. Humboldt in turn persuaded the King of Prussia Frederick Wilhelm IV to offer the young artist a travel stipend, on condition that his sketchbooks and studies would be given to the Prussian Royal Collection on his return. As a result, the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin now owns some 233 of Bellermann’s drawings, including topographical works, views of ports and cities, and detailed plant and nature studies.

Bellermann was initially invited by the German merchant and Prussian Consul in Puerto Cabello, Carl Rühs, to travel on the Margareth to Venezuela. Having arrived at the port of La Guaira in July 1842, Bellermann sailed on to Puerto Cabello, where he met the German merchant Ludwig Glöckler and received his invitation to the San Esteban plantation. Together with Albert Berg and Frederick Edwin Church, the artist was one of the leading artists travelling in Alexander von Humboldt’s footsteps in the mid-nineteenth century. Bellermann spent over three years travelling in Venezuela, visiting sites such as Guácharo cave, the Tovar German Colony, the Andes and Maracaibo, often in the company of the naturalist Carl Moritz. Bellermann’s numerous drawings provided a valuable contribution to the study of Venezuela's topography and botany.

Study by Ferdinand Konrad Bellermann, Zuckerrohrplantage von San Esteban bei Puerto Cabello, 1842-1845. Collection of Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin
Ferdinand Konrad Bellermann, Zuckerrohrplantage von San Esteban bei Puerto Cabello, 1842-1845. Collection of Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin

Two studies of the present view are held in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin. In addition to the present work of 1847, three other views of the Hacienda in San Estaban are known, respectively of 1849, 1856 and circa 1868-70 (the latter now in the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros collection).

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