Otto Reinhold Jacobi

 
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JACOBI, Otto Reinhold

1812-1901

Born at Konigsberg, Prussia, the son of Ehlert Reinhold Jacobi, a malt brewer and Johanne Louise Linck. He received his education at Konigsberg where he became a teacher (probably of art). He then studied art at the Academy of Berlin and in 1832 (at the age of 20) he won a 1,000 dollar prize to study three years at Dusseldorf. While he was at the Dusseldorf school he was appointed (c. 1837) court painter at Wiesbaden, a position he held for twenty years. His work became well known in his own country and he received numerous commissions from royalty. He became known in England and later Canada. It was someone in Canada familiar with his work who suggested he be invited to come to Canada and paint a scene of the Shawinigan Falls. This scene would then be presented to the Prince of Wales during his official Canadian reception. Jacobi arrived in Canada in 1860 and completed this commission but instead of returning to Germany where he had es­tablished himself he stayed on in Canada. Newton MacTavish described this period as follows, "His paintings of this period and even of the period embracing the next ten years, display a good sense of colour values, though they may be found lacking in originality and variety of design. Some of his paintings are notable for their delightful tones of gray, but most of them are emphatic exponents of the merits of red and orange. In Jacobi Shawinigan Falls must have aroused genuine enthusiasm, for the painting of waterfalls became with him a veritable passion. . . . One of his favourite compositions was an orange sunset, with some indication of trees on either side and a waterfall down the middle. This somewhat sentimental bit of landscape he repeated many times, with, of course, enough variation. . . ." Jacobi lived in Montreal where he worked for Notman and Fraser. Then he moved to Toronto where he became a charter member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 1880 and was president of this society from 1890-1893. He was among the first exhibitors at the Ontario Society of Artists and was one of the first teachers (of water colour drawing) at the Ontario School of Art which was founded by the Ontario Society of Artists. He was a better painter than a teacher and it seems he was not able to impart his fine water colour technique to his pupils. For this reason he left the Ontario School of Art but later taught pupils privately including Henry Sandham. Discussing his work Edgar Andrew Collard8 noted "He would paint in oils, sometimes on canvases of tremendous size. Or he would paint in watercolors, often minute little pictures, measuring only a few inches. But whether the scale was large or small, he achieved a sense of sublimity, perhaps with a certain touch of romantic wistfulness." Jacobi's paintings were in some demand in the auction rooms of Montreal and Toronto and are still sought after today. He was married in Germany in 1837 and had one son who came to America and took up ranching in the Dakota country. It was at his son's ranch in 1901 that Jacobi died at the age of 89. Robert Harris painted an excellent portrait of Otto Jacobi in 1892. This portrait was acquired by the Royal Canadian Academy who made a gift of it to the National Gallery of Canada around 1900. Jacobi is represented in the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, The Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Queen's University, Kingston); The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts; The Museum of the Province of Quebec; in many private collections in Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. Reproductions of Jacobi's paintings can be found in the following books. (see below).

Colin S. MacDonald

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, volumes 1-8 by Colin S. MacDonald, and volume 9 (online only), by Anne Newlands and Judith Parker
National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada