Jakob Christoph Miville (17861836), a native of Basel, was a leading representative of Swiss early Romantic landscape painting. After exploring the countryside around Rome and the Swiss Alps, he became a pioneer by spending several years in Russia, where the unfamiliar surroundings helped him develop a keen appreciation of nature. Through his work as a drawing teacher in St. Petersburg and later in Basel, he was also an important influence on the next generation of artists. A first monographic exhibition of Mivilles work was on display at the Kunstmuseum Basel
in 1946. The same museum now presents an extensive survey of his oeuvre in collaboration with the Stiftung für Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts in Olten, the first such show to display drawings side by side with the paintings and bring together works from Russian and Swiss collections. The exhibition and the comprehensive catalogue are the fruits of years of scholarship undertaken by Katja Herlach and Hans Christoph Ackermann on behalf of the Foundation in Olten.
Jakob Christoph Miville studied drawing with Peter Birmann, Basel, and painting with Johann Caspar Huber, Zurich. Like many artists of his generation, he was soon drawn to Rome, where his acquaintance with the German Romans Joseph Anton Koch and Johann Christian Reinhart was a source of crucial inspiration and led him to hone his skills in drawing from nature. Living amid the international community of artists in Rome from 1805 until 1807, he developed a distinctive style of landscape painting.
After returning to Basel, he turned his attention on the Swiss Alps, a popular source of motifs for the landscape artists of the area, as well as the environs of Basel. But the success he had anticipated failed to materialize, and Miville left for more northerly parts. Hoping to find better luck, he went to Russia, where he lived from 1809 until 1816. In 1810, he entered Count Grigory Orlovs services as a draughtsman and surveyor and followed him to St. Petersburg. Only a year later, in 1811, Miville set up as a drawing teacher in St. Petersburg; in 1814, he toured the north and Crimea.
Inspired by the vast northern landscapes, he developed a new sensibility of nature and arrived at a Romantic conception of the landscape that rested on careful study of the natural world. The large collection of sketches he had accumulated continued to form the basis for the drawings and paintings he executed after returning to Basel in 1816. Among his later commercial successes was the sale of a 40-part series of paintings based on Crimean motifs to the Countess Bobrinsky in St. Petersburg.
From 1819 to 1821, he was back in Rome, where he once again engaged with the work of Joseph Anton Koch, an older artist he admired, and the heroic landscape genre. In Basel, he subsequently began work on the ambitious large-format paintings Italienische Landschaft and Schwingfest auf der Balisalp, which would occupy him for some time. More generally, Miville gradually returned to Swiss landscapes as the years went by; he also occasionally turned his attention to portraiture. It was only in 1826 when he became a successful and innovative drawing teacher at the Gesellschaft zur Beförderung des Guten und Gemeinnützigen (Society for the Promotion of the Good and the Common Benefit) that his art provided him with a dependable basis of existence.