Caspar Voght Exhibition, Jenisch House

In the west wing on the second floor are the former private rooms of the Jenisch family. Today, the rooms are dedicated to the life and work of the Caspar Voght (1752–1839), a figure in the philosophical and intellectual Enlightenment movement. The Hamburg businessman, together with his friend and business partner Georg Heinrich Sieveking, ran one of the largest trading houses in Hamburg in the second half of the 18th century. Voght was a key figure in the social development of the Hanseatic city at the time. He took on a pioneering role through his commitment to social, cultural, and scientific projects.

Caspar Voght (17 November 1752 – 20 March 1839), later Caspar Reichsfreiherr von Voght (more commonly known as Baron Caspar von Voght), was a German merchant and social reformer from Hamburg (today Germany). Together with his business partner and friend Georg Heinrich Sieveking he led one of the largest trading firms in Hamburg during the second half of the 18th Century. On numerous trade trips, he completely crossed the European continent. One of his greatest achievements was reforming the welfare system of Hamburg. From 1785 he dedicated himself to strengthening agricultural and horticultural projects and built a model agricultural community in Flottbek, close to the gates of Hamburg.

Caspar Voght was one of the most significant figures in Hamburg around 1800. One of his major projects involved building an agricultural model estate in the English style in Klein Flottbek, Hamburg. The key component of the model estate’s English landscape garden, Jenisch Park, is still there today. This exhibition in Jenisch House provides a comprehensive insight into the different facets of the life and work of Voght, which was characterized by Enlightenment ideals.

Life and work

Background, youth and ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe
Caspar Voght was born in Hamburg, the first of three children of the family of the merchant and senator Caspar Voght (the elder, *1707 in Beverstedt close to Bremen, † 1781 in Hamburg) and Elisabeth Jencquel (* 26 September 1723), the daughter of a Hamburg senator. Voght’s father was apprenticed around 1721 in the merchant house Jürgen Jencquel which specialized in Hamburg’s trade with Portugal. For 16 years starting in 1732 he represented the merchant house in Lisbon. After he returned, Voght’s father founded his own silk and linen trading company in Hamburg and later rose to the rank of senator in Hamburg.

At the age of 12, Caspar Voght fell seriously ill of smallpox which left permanent facial scarring. Other than making friends with Georg Heinrich Sieveking, whom he met as an adolescent in the Kontor of his father’s firm, Voght was more inclined at this point in his life to dedicating himself to studying literature, politics, and science, and found little pleasure in his vocation as a merchant. When his father wanted to send him to Lisbon at the age of twenty for his education, Voght used his mother’s fears of Lisbon to avoid going. She had lost two brothers in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755.

Voght instead embarked in 1772 on a Grand Tour of Europe. His journey took him, among other locations, to Amsterdam, London, Paris and Cádiz. He reached Madrid, where he concluded a trade agreement for his father’s business. After traveling through the south of France, Voght went to Switzerland, where he met Lavater and Haller. In Geneva he made contact with Voltaire. Passing through Turin, Milan, Parma and Bologna, he arrived in Rome where he was presented to Pope Pius VI. After a side trip to Pompeii, Naples, and a short stop in Venice, Voght traveled to Bergamo, where he made contact with the local silk weavers for his father’s business. He then went to Vienna, Dresden, Berlin and Potsdam, finally returning to his hometown of Hamburg in 1775.

Trading Activity and Establishment of the Model Estate in Flottbek
After the death of his father in 1781, Voght continued his father’s company under the name “Caspar Voght & Co.” in partnership with Georg Heinrich Sieveking. Together, they made use of the newly independent English colonies to build up strong mercantile ties with traders in ports along the North American coast. A good will missive dated March 29, 1783 was presented to Congress in Philadelphia on behalf of the Hamburg Senate by Johann Abraham de Boor. De Boor was a citizen of Hamburg who had traveled overseas under commission to the trading firm of Caspar Voght & Co.

Voght’s interests lay more with agriculture than with trading. Even as a youth, he was delighted being in a garden, designed on a French model, which his father owned in Hamm, at the outskirts of Hamburg. As Voght became older, he became aware that his inclination for landscape architecture and horticulture would be more than a hobby, and life in business repelled him increasingly. Not long before his death, Voght acknowledged in a letter: “When trade could no longer strike my fancy, I became nauseous”. He handed the direction of the firm over to his partner Sieveking in a large measure. From 1785, Voght began to purchase lots of land in Klein Flottbek outside the gates of the then independent city of Altona.

After a trip to England in the winter of 1785-6, where he tried to familiarize himself with the local landscape architecture and modern methods of husbandry, he began work on his Hamburg estates on a model farm and arboretum (the present day Jenisch Park was his parc du midi). Voght recruited two landscape gardeners for Flottbek renowned in Europe: the Scotsman James Booth and Frenchman Joseph Ramée. In 1787, Voght introduced the potato for cultivation. Up until then, it had been primarily an import product from the Netherlands. In 1797 he helped his stewart Lukas Andreas Staudinger found an institute for education in agriculture in Groß Flottbek. It was the first agricultural school in the German-speaking world. The most prominent student of this academy was Johann Heinrich von Thünen, who would later correspond with Voght primarily about questions of crops yields of soils.

Voght as poor house reformer
As early as 1770 Voght had come in contact with prisons, when, representing his father, he had shown the English prison reformer John Howard around Hamburg’s penitentiary. From that time he maintained a great interest in matters related to poorhouses and prisons. Together with the head of the trade academy (Handelsakademie) Johann Georg Büsch and the lawyer Johann Arnold Günther, Voght initiated in 1788 the establishment of a ‘common institution for the poor’ (Allgemeinen Armenanstalt) with which he reformed Hamburg’s poor provision. The foundation of this reform was the division of the city into care zones whose approximately 200 inhabitants were entrusted with finding voluntary means of caring for the poor in that zone.

The institute guaranteed medical attention for the poor, support during pregnancy and childbirth, and education and work for poor children. In contrast to the prevailing mode of providing for the poor, which was usually ecclesiastical and focused on moral and spiritual aspects of the situation, the reform was directed towards the economic needs of those affected. The cost of the effort was met by tithes collected in churches and weekly collections for the poor. As a result of this effort, the number of occupants in Hamburg’s penitentiaries sank drastically.

Voght’s success in the fight against poverty had effects throughout Hamburg and beyond. In 1801, the Emperor summoned him to Vienna, in order to suggest remedies and help prepare plans for a reform of the poor provisions in that city. For this service, he granted the title of baron (Reichsfreiherr) and was thereby ennobled. During a stay in Berlin in the winter of 1802-03, Voght authored a review about poor provision in Berlin at the request of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III. During a many-month stay in Paris in 1807, he prepared a report commissioned by the French interior ministry on the situation of the Parisian poorhouses, orphanages, maternity houses, and prisons. Beyond these, he reformed poor provision in Marseille and Lyon, and communicated his understanding of reform to Lisbon and Porto. In 1838 at the age of 86, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Hamburger poor institute, he wrote a book entitled Reflections on the 50 Year History of the Poor Institute.

The later years
By 1793 Voght had handed over all business affairs with the exception of trade with the US to his Partner Sieveking. The trade crisis which hit Hamburg in 1799 struck his firm heavily, so that he finally had to dissolve the trade house.

During the period of the Continental System he undertook another multi-year trip through Switzerland, France, and Italy, during which he got to know the Emperor Napoleon and his first wife Josephine in Paris. After his return to Flottbek he lived mainly from income earned from agriculture. Upon the sale of his model estate to the banker and senator Martin Johann Jenisch in 1828, Voght lived with Bonaparte. He later dwelt with the widow of his partner Georg Heinrich Sieveking, who had died in 1799.

Voght died in Hamburg on 20 March 1839 at the age of 86. He was buried in the Nienstedtener cemetery.

The Exhibition
The west wing of the second floor is dedicated to a permanent exhibition about the life and work of Caspar Voght. This Hamburg merchant, together with his friend and business partner Georg Sieveking (1751-1799) controlled one of the largest trading companies in Hamburg in the second half of the 18th century. Voght was also a key figure as society developed in the Hansa town around 1800. His commitment to social, cultural and scientific projects saw him taking a pioneering role which, so far, has received too little recognition in research into the enlightenment and the history of this city. One of his most significant reform projects was to set up a model farm based on English examples. This model farm formed the core for the English landscape garden that has been kept to this day, now known as the “Jenisch Park”, named after the Hamburg Senator Martin Johan Jenisch (1793-1857), who bought the land from Voght in 1828. Jenisch built his summer house there between 1831-1834 – the Jenisch Haus.

The reform of the Hamburg poor relief and prison system in the year 1788 was also due to Voght’s great efforts, which brought him recognition throughout Europe and included praise from the Prussian King and Emperor Franz II, who awarded him the title of Reichsfreiherr (imperial baron) for his services.

In Hamburg he was a dedicated supporter of the theatre – something which is hardly known today – he was also enthusiastic about literature and art and was a keen supporter of developing the education system.


Portrait Caspar Voght
by Jean Laurent Mosnier (1801)
The French portrait painter Mosnier depicts Voght as an enlightened landowner. The bookcase and view from the window demonstrate his interest in science, gardening, and agriculture. Paris-born Jean Laurent Mosnier was one of the most famous portrait painters in Hamburg around 1800. His clients came from the well-to-do bourgeoisie and nobility.

Mosnier’s artistic specialty lies in the depiction of precious fabrics. This is clearly illustrated through the red-black tone present in this portrait of Voght, who is dressed in a dark frock coat and red drapery.

The idealization of the people presented, particularly their faces which are often partially shadowed, shines through Mosnier’s work. He understands how to attribute character to his subject in terms of both their environment and personality. You can see that he is less concerned with an accurate portrayal of the figure and facial features than with reflecting the inner thoughts of the person portrayed. This is something that an artist must be able to recognize in order to depict the subjects appropriately.

Caspar Voght’s library
Caspar Voght’s library in Klein Flottbek consisted of around 3,800 volumes, 200 maps, and a number of copper engravings. He collected works on geography and history, horticulture and agriculture, the poor and imprisonment. Travel writing, books on the “beautiful art of speaking,” and Voght’s own treatises on welfare and agriculture were represented. He kept his mineral collection and physical instruments in glass cabinets.

Many authors whom Voght knew personally, such as F. G. Klopstock, J. J. Rousseau, Goethe, and Lessing, sent copies of their books with personal dedications. When Voght died in 1839, his collection was auctioned off. It is not known who bought the books. With the help of the auctioneer’s preserved directory, part of the library has been reconstructed in this exhibition.

The Country House in Klein Flottbek
Caspar Voght’s home was the meeting point for many communities and was where he invited his friends to visit. It was a country house in the middle of his “ferme ornée” in Klein Flottbek. After the old farmhouse—Voght’s first home—was destroyed by fire, he commissioned architect Johann August Arens to construct a new house in 1794. Arens designed an unusual building with a colonnade on the third floor from which Voght could look out onto his garden. Instead of a style reflecting his reputation, he emphasized the rural character of the house. For Voght, Klein Flottbek was a rural idyll—a place of nature, sociability, and science.

Walking stick by Caspar Voght(1830)
This walking stick made of wood and ivory was most likely owned by Caspar Voght. However, walking sticks in the 18th/19th century weren’t just a walking aid, but were also a fashion accessory and status symbol.

Dining hall
Caspar Voght gladly and regularly invited friends and scholarly conversation partners to Flottbek. He was considered good company and was often at the center of lively discussions. The large collection of furniture is representative of such an occasion.

Porcelain dining set (1803)
by KPM, Berlin
The porcelain dining set on the table was received by Caspar Voght by the Prussian king Friedrich Wilhelm III as a gift for his contribution to reforming the welfare system.

Blooming blue field bindweeds are depicted on the porcelain with high botanical accuracy and in fine color shades. The monogram “FWR”—Friedrich Wilhelm Rex—shows it to be a gift from the Prussian king. The field bindweed as a decoration could be interpreted as the king’s homage to Voght and his ornamented farm.

Painting Teufelsbrück – Klein Flottbek
by Louis Gurlitt
Painter Louis Gurlitt was one such guest of Baron Voght. Although he only spent the first 20 years of his life in Altona and neighboring Hamburg, he is considered one of the most significant artistic figures of both cities. Louis Gurlitt’s extensive oeuvre ranges from his early work, which clearly conveys his love for 17th-century Dutch landscape paintings, to his paintings, oil studies, and artworks inspired by strict naturalism, to large-scale panorama landscapes based particularly in Italy and Schleswig-Holstein, which bring together idealist landscape views and his observations of nature.

Caspar Voghts ornamented farm in Klein Flottbek
In Klein Flottbek, Caspar Voght created the greatest ferme ornée (ornamented farm) in northern Germany, following the example of English poet William Shestone’s The Leasowes. He combined beauty with practicality and integrated agricultural land into a
park la dscape in the style of an English landscape garden. Voght bought his first farms in 1785 and expanded his property over the following years.

The country model estate became a model for advanced farming. He constructed houses for his farm workers on what is now Baron-Voght-Straße. He paid an above-average wage and cared for the sick and widowed. In Klein Flottbek, Voght was able to bring his ideas to life as a landscaper, farmer, and social reformer. In 1828, Voght sold his property to Martin Johan Jenisch.

Jenisch House

The Jenisch-Haus (own spelling Jenisch Haus ) is a classicist country house in Klein Flottbek, a district in western Hamburg, which allows a wide view over a park over the Elbe near Teufelsbrück. The Museum of Art and Culture on the Elbe is run as a branch of the Altona Museum and shows representative halls on the ground floor. On the upper floors, changing exhibitions present topics from the history of art and culture, particularly from the 19th century.

The Jenisch Haus is one of the most beautiful historic buildings in Hamburg. Located within extensive parklike gardens on the banks of the Elbe, the south-facing rooms offer wonderful views of the river and passing ships. It was constructed between 1831 and 1834 in the neoclassical style according to plans by Franz Gustav Forsmann and Karl Friedrich Schinkel.

Today it is the Museum for Art and Culture on the Elbe and boasts impressive state rooms with opulent decorative plasterwork and parquet floors as well as furnishings, paintings and sculptures in the Empire and Biedermeier styles and many temporary exhibitions.