Rumlikon 1797 - Zürich 1850


Born near Zürich, Johann Jacob Wolfensberger studied there with Heinrich Füessli between 1814 and 1817, when he travelled to Italy. Settling in Naples, he worked there for several years, and also spent some time travelling in Sicily. In 1825 he was in Rome, where he befriended Horace Vernet, the director of the Académie de France. In Rome Wolfesnberger was employed as a drawing teacher to the Marquess of Northampton, later President of the Royal Society. In 1829 he returned briefly to Zürich, where he lived with the painter Johann Conrad Zeller, before coming back to Rome in 1830. Between 1832 and 1835 Wolfensberger lived and worked in Athens, where he was employed by the French envoy 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 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. A trip to London in 1840 resulted in a commission from the publisher Fisher for a series of seventeen prints of Italian and Greek views. His marriage the following year to an Englishwoman allowed the artist a measure of financial security. 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, Hanna Dorothea Burdon.

Wolfensberger’s watercolour views of Italy, Greece and the Near East are characterized by a topographical accuracy combined with a charming or picturesque viewpoint. A large group of around five hundred drawings and watercolours by Wolfensberger is today in the collection of the Kunstmuseum in St. Gallen. Other works by the artist are in the collections of the Kunsthaus, the ETH and the Zentralbibliothek in Zurich.