August Matthias Hagen was born on 23 February 1794, in Vijciems Manor, near the town of Valga, in Livonia, the son of a miller. According to Hagen, the inspiring surroundings of his childhood home influenced his desire to become an artist. Young Hagen went to Tartu in 1810 to work as a painter’s apprentice, and a year later he began his studies in the graphics studio of Karl August Senff (1770–1838).

In 1820, Hagen moved to Germany to continue his education. From abroad, the artist sent home dozens of oil landscape paintings. Travellers’ notes from Hagen’s travels in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, written in vivid language, give an idea of the artist’s development. As well as painting, hiking, sightseeing, and encounters, the notes include descriptions of romantic adventures and dreams. The artist had dreamt of visiting Switzerland since childhood. When hiking in the Alps, there was no need to look for motifs to paint, as they were everywhere the eye could see. Hagen’s diaries reveal that he achieved increasing mastery while traveling (Vallikivi, 2020). In 1824 the artist returned to his homeland, and from 1826 he was a drawing teacher at the Tartu Gymnasium, and from 1829 to 1832 also at the school for girls. He also taught drawing to W. Fr. Krüger, Fr. S. Stern, and H. E. Hartmann. In 1837, Hagen received the title of freelance artist from the St Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts.

August Matthias Hagen continued teaching from 1838 to 1851 at the University of Tartu School of Drawing as Senff’s successor, being the first drawing teacher of local origin. He retired due to failing eyesight but continued to draw until his death. Many of his drawings were lithographed, which allowed them to be more widely distributed in the Baltic countries.

Art historian Voldemar Vaga has appreciated Hagen’s paintings less than his drawings, although the artist’s style became freer and more realistic over time. According to Vaga, Hagen’s paintings are characterised by a matter-of-fact, subtle brushwork that emphasises detail, while also being dry and rigid. Hagen was not interested in depicting air and light, his works were dark and gloomy. Most of the artist’s paintings are believed to have been destroyed, including some of the 29 paintings bought for the imperial court by Vasily Zhukovsky.

August Matthias Hagen died on 2 December 1878, in Tartu.

The main part of Hagen’s oeuvre consists of cityscapes and landscapes in sepia, mixed media, and aquatint. A painting of the main gate of Viljandi Castle, with a shepherd standing in front of it and cows in the background in sepia and gouache style, was completed by the artist in the 1840s. At that time, it was not easy to get to the castle gates, as the earth wall connecting the two hills was only built in 1927 (Vallikivi, 2020).


August Matthias Hagen (1794-1878)
Viljandi landscape, 1840. Sepia, gouache, paper. 28 x 45.3 cm.
Estonian History Museum
AM_13687:39 G 6244

Viljandi landscape, 1840, p 19; Ruins of Viljandi Castle, 1842, p 23

August Matthias Hagen (1794-1878):
The ruins of Vilandi Castle 1842. Watercolor, gouache, paper. 20.8 x 33.2 cm.
Estonian History Museum
AM_13687:40 G 6243

KEYWORDS: travel diary in a straightforward style, mixed-media drawings of birds and landscapes in a lush style.