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 and plantation 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.
As well as the topography and fauna of the site, the composition provides a fascinating insight into the production of sugar at this date. A team of labourers are seen manually cutting and stacking the bushels in the foreground, while on the left among the buildings the wooden 'trapiche' mill is visible, used to grind the sugar cane and extract its juice. Rather than steam or water power, the example here appears to be driven by oxen.
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.
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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