Grand Tour. Estonian Artists in Italy

Kumu Art Museum


For centuries, Italy has belonged among the most popular destinations for art journeys. In Estonian art, Italy reminds us of Julie Wilhelmine Hagen-Schwarz, Johann Köler, August Weizenberg, Ants Laikmaa and Konrad Mägi. They enjoyed their heydays, best inspiration and top emotional state while working in the country.


Mild climate, picturesque scenery and classical civilization were the magnets attracting artists from Estonia and elsewhere. Italy was the meeting point of the past and eternity, its spirit reached the far borders of Europe. First, the abundant signs of civilization amazed those coming from the North, but before long they found their inspiration electrified by the area of Campagna and Naples. Italy was a contact zone, where the lives of people coming from different historical and geographical backgrounds met. The foreign element helped to understand oneself and gave a deeper meaning to homeland.


The term Grand Tour, denoting a longer journey undertaken for self-education and the accumulation of life experience, developed into an important cultural landmark in the late-17th century. First the tour, lasting for months and sometimes even years, was affordable only for a few – the availability of money, time and motivation was crucial. In 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars, travelling conditions improved, the wealthy middle class developed and as a result, the originally individual travels were replaced by mass tourism. At the exhibition, the beginning of this new era is well-displayed on the photos from the Kolu Manor, taken by Ottocar von Ungern-Sternberg in the 1870’s. From the very beginning, Switzerland and Italy were the main destinations of the Grand Tour in Europe. Both countries had breathtaking landscapes and a strong air of civilization, nourishing both the mind and the spirit.


As a destination, Italy allowed refining one’s awareness of history and taste, admiring and acquiring works of art believed to be of permanent value. Those unable to travel nourished themselves at home and in mind: volumes of travel and guidebooks on Italy (among them also the travelogues by local artists Carl Alexander von Winkler, Constantin Kügelgen and others) were supplemented by scenic prints, creating and fixing a mental picture of Italy. Tourists and artists knew well beforehand what to look for in the most popular destinations in Italy – Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples. Pen and paper were reliable travel companions. In 1803 a drawing class was opened at Tartu University, where students copied scenes by popular masters. However, the opportunity to work on spot was considered the top of all. Thousands and thousands of students from different European art academies, Carl Timoleon von Neff, Otto Friedrich Moeller and Johann Köler, all three coming from Estonia among them, could not consider themselves as true professionals without an Italian experience. Some spent years in Italy (August Weizenberg); some nourished their mind and body in Italy on a regular basis and had Raffael as their greatest paragon (Carl Timoleon von Neff).


The display comes from the collections of Art Museum of Estonia, Tartu Art Museum, Tartu University Library Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Tartu University Art Museum and private collections.


Curator: Tiina Abel

Designer: Urmas Viik