August Georg Wilhelm Pezold was born on 9 August 1794, in Rakvere, as the son of a county doctor who had immigrated to Estonia from Germany. He lost his mother at a young age and his father at the age of 9. Young August grew up in a friendly foster home with Count Rehbinder, in Udriku Manor, where a boy his age was his playmate. Together with the landowner’s children, the young Pezold received an ‘encyclopaedic’ education thanks to the countess’ peculiar teaching method. Mrs Rehbinder was particularly keen on teaching languages. In 1808, the 14-year-old boys were sent to Tallinn Cathedral School, where August learned fortification among other subjects. Two years later, the young artist began his medical studies at the University of Tartu, but spent more and more time drawing under the guidance of Karl August Senff. Pezold became convinced that he could only be happy as an artist. Together with a new friend, Otto Friedrich Ignatius, he undertook a study trip to Germany that lasted seven years. While away from home, they also travelled in Austria, Italy, France, and Switzerland.
In the spring of 1821, August Pezold travelled hundreds of kilometres on horseback to Paris, from there he travelled to London and returned to Estonia in the autumn. His grandmother and stepmother were living in Viljandi at the time, and the artist came straight here. Between 1821 and 1836 Pezold worked as a portrait painter in Riga, Viljandi, St Petersburg, Tartu, and Võnnu. He met his future wife, Caroline Tiling, in Viljandi, and the two married in 1825, in St Petersburg. Being a teacher in St. Petersburg did not suit him, and misfortunes in the family (the death of his two sons and the illness of his wife) brought him back to Livonia.
In 1833, Pezold painted a portrait of Dr Fr. Faehlmann. The artist’s frequent relocations and commuting were linked to commissioned portraits, both in the city and in the countryside. Between 1837 and 1842 Pezold worked as a teacher in Tallinn. In 1839 he was awarded the title of freelance artist by the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts for his portraits. At the same time, he also became particularly active in painting Estonian people. His pictures of Estonian folk costumes became very popular and were used as signs during fairs to attract buyers. In 1842, the artist moved to St Petersburg, where he remained for the rest of his life, working as a drawing teacher at the university. In St Petersburg, Pezold met Johann Köler, who had gone to the Russian capital in 1846 with only 75 kopeks in his pocket.
In 1856, August Pezold applied for the title of academician, but was denied it for unknown reasons.
He died on 12 March 1859, in St Petersburg.
In his work, Pezold was a realist who sought an unadulterated naturalism. His works are characterised by a small format that creates an intimate and homely atmosphere. Pezold’s oeuvre was inspired by the approach and style of Biedermeier art. The most important and best part of Pezold’s oeuvre consisted of pencil portraits (Eesti Sõna, 1944).
August Pezold’s son, Leopold Diedrich Ernst von Pezold (born in Viljandi in 1832), published his father’s travel diaries The Years of Travel of Three Estonian Artists in 1889–1890, supplemented with his own comments. According to the son, his father loved the Estonians’ national characteristics, and although he was of Baltic German origin, he portrayed the local people with great affection. The two surviving drawings with Viljandi motifs date from 1822. The artist has depicted Juhan Taniel, the blind former stableman of Viljandi Manor, in a watercolour from 1831 with a beggar’s bag and a cane, a young boy begging beside him.
In the painting depicting a figure standing with his back to the viewer in the Castle Hills, it can be seen how the Viiratsi side of Lake Viljandi was much wider at that time. The work is a stylistically pure example of Romanticism in Baltic German art (Vallikivi, 2020).
Two Viljandi motifs in ink, Blind beggar with a boy, a view from Viljandi Castle Hill and a view from Viljandi Castle Hill to the lake.
KEYWORDS – seven-year study trip to Europe, intimate and homely portraits, travels for portrait commissions, portraits of Estonian peasants.