Johann Köler (1826–1899)


Johann Köler enrolled 1848 at the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts. It was the only institution of higher education in Russia that based its approach on the positions of academic art. Köler was a successful student, even though he suffered from overworking and material privation. Even though Köler graduated from school, his graduation works were not sufficient to earn him a scholarship for travelling. Luckily, a prince asked the beginner artist to paint a portrait of the tsar and paid Köler 1200 roubles for that work. Additionally, Count Sievers commissioned an altar picture of Christ on the cross from Köler for the church in Võnnu, which Köler promised to paint over the course of the trip he was about to embark on. Thus he could count on the amount he would receive for that work. On top of that, Köler was informed in November of 1857 that he had been awarded a two-year scholarship for travelling abroad from the Society for Fostering the Arts. Köler left St. Petersburg in June of 1857, travelled throughout half of Europe and arrived in Paris by the autumn of that same year. On the basis of the portraits and sketches he completed there, it is maintained that at that time, Köler still adhered to the classicist principles insisted on at school.