Little can be found about the painter Carl Haag when looking at German reference books, not so when including English ones. Compared with England, Carl Haag is still fairly unknown in Germany. Art experts will know that at auctions, Haag’s watercolours have fetched high prices for years, especially his Oriental motifs. Nonetheless Carl Haag has not been integrated into art historic correlation. The International Carl Haag Society intends to change that.
Whoever takes a look at the data presented on our website will realise that we are dealing with a widely travelled and in his time highly respected painter, who was also most valued by Queen Victoria.
In the town of Oberwesel he was deemed a generous and gregarious man, a highly esteemed citizen of this small town. Until today his watercolours make a big impression, especially because of their minute details and brilliance of colour.
Born in the area of Franken, Erlangen in 1820, he goes to art school in Nuremberg, meaning to continue his studies in Munich, Bavaria, but is quickly in demand as a portrait painter within aristrocratic circles, mainly because of his extremely realistic miniatures.
For a while he lives in Brussels. During his first visit to London, he gets acquainted with British watercolours, which he finds so fascinating that he begins studying at the Royal Academy in the year of the Revolution, 1848. Within two years, he has become an extraordinary member of the Royal Watercolour Society, where he exhibits and sells his works for many years.
Always looking for new motifs, he goes on extensive journeys, discovers the areas of the middle Rhine and the picturesque Oberwesel, where, years later, he has a tower of the old town wall converted into a residence and studio. On his way to Italy he roams the upper highlands of Bavaria and Tyrol, is in Venice, to find Trient and Naples, and repeatedly spends the winters in Rome, where he joins the German Artists Association, at times being their president.
In Tyrol, in 1852, Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha becomes aware of him and recommends him to his sister-in-law, Queen Victoria. For the following years Carl Haag frequently stays at her castle Balmoral in Scotland documenting the life of the Royal Family in the Highlands. The Queen even copies some of his pictures. In 1854 Duke Ernst appoints Carl Haag as his court painter and has his castles furnished with Haag’s watercolours.
But Haag does not just remain in the circles of the Coburgs. He travels in the Balcans, to Dalmatia and Greece. In the autumn of 1858, he departs for a long journey of the Orient. In Cairo he moves into a studio flat in the Coptic quarter with his London friend and painter Frederick Goodall. They ride to the Pyramids and the Red Sea, sketch the country and the people, paint as if in a race. But Haag endevours to go further, rides to Jerusalem on his own and takes a flat in the old town. He is one of the first ‘infidels’ allowed to sketch inside the Dome of the Rock.
From Jerusalem, Carl Haag rides to the Jordan valley and to Damascus under the protection of a tribe of Beduines whose sheik is married to the English Lady Jane Digby, one surrounded by scandal. Portraits of both can be seen these days in the Tareq-Rajab Museum in Kuwait. From Damascus Haag travels to the desert oasis of Palmyra with a small group of English tourists. These days Palmyra has fallen into the hands of shihadist barbarians. Haag captures the temples, graves and palaces in numerous watercolours which are mainly in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and in the Royal Collection together with the watercolours of the ruined town of Ba’albek in Lebanon to which Haag goes after Palmyra. He does not return to London till 1860. He will go back to the Orient in 1873.
From 1852 Haag’s journeys have been documented in his diaries.
After his return, Carl Haag becomes a British citizen. He considers himself a Victorian painter though this does not hinder his acquiring a tower of the town wall in Oberwesel in 1864 and having it extended. He invites the whole town to the topping-out ceremony. In 1866 he marries the only daughter of the town commandant of Lueneburg, Ida Buettner. Ida’s father is a veteran of the Battle of Waterloo. One of her brothers is a successful businessman in the Southern States of the USA.
They move into the exclusive residential area of Hampstead into a house which Haag names ‘Ida Villa’. Their studio, furnished in oriental style, becomes a topic of conversation in middle-class and artist circles. Some of it still remains today. They have four children in quick succession and enjoy their summers by the Rhine. Haag’s pictures are shown in numerous exhibitions, in Vienna, Paris and Munich amongst others. He is awarded orders of merit in several countries.
In 1903 Carl and Ida, by now advanced in years, move to Oberwesel with their still unmarried daughter Erna. Their son Victor, godchild of Queen Victoria, studies in Darmstadt, son Emil serves in the military, i.a. in India and South Africa, and son Norman in the diplomatic service in Europe. Ida Haag dies in 1911 in the Red Tower where Carl Haag also dies in 1915. He leaves four children with only Norman producing descendants: he marries the widow Doris Maud de Winton White, daughter of Ernest Salter Wills, Baron of Hazelwood, in 1920. Wills is one of the founders of Imperial Tobacco, today the 4th biggest tobacco company in the world.
Exactly one hundred years after Carl Haag’s death, on January 17th 2015, the International Carl Haag Society is founded in the painter’s former studio in Oberwesel. Two of its members are his only two great-grandchildren.
Translated by Liz Hirst
© Walter Karbach 2015