Rudolph Ackermann (1764-1834)
Born in Stollberg, Saxony, in 1764, Ackermann was educated at a Latin School. The son of a saddler, he first followed in his father’s footsteps, but then trained as a carriage maker. Having worked in various German cities, for Carassi in Paris and for Simons in Brussels, Ackermann settled in London in 1787. He married an Englishwoman in 1792 and was naturalized in 1809.
Initially a carriage maker in London, Ackermann worked for such prominent clients as George Washington. Fascinated by the advances made in printing, he moved into publishing and set up a lithographic press at 96 Strand in 1795. Two years later he relocated to larger premises at 101 Strand and by 1800 Ackermann was the leading publisher of colour-plate books, decorative prints, fashionable periodicals and political caricatures in London. But The Repository of Arts, as his business was called, was far more than a publishing house: it incorporated a drawing school, a gallery and library, manufactured and sold artists’ materials and generally functioned as a social centre.
Still, Ackermann’s carriage designs continued to be in demand. More interested in publishing, however, he was selective in the commissions he accepted. In 1804 he designed a state coach for the coronation of Napoleon Bonaparte and in 1805 he designed the funeral carriage for Admiral Lord Nelson. These major commissions aside, it was The Repository of Arts which was to build his reputation.
The publisher of over 300 books, including several textbooks for the newly-independent countries in Latin America, Ackermann is today most closely associated with the finest of colour-plate books, The Microcosm of London, the monthly magazine The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics and the literary annual Forget-me-Not. The Microcosm of London was published in three volumes between 1808 and 1810 and included a total of 104 large folio hand-coloured aquatints. These set a new standard for the representation of figures in topographical prints and were achieved by Augustus Pugin, who executed the architectural drawings, and Thomas Rowlandson, who added the figures, often caricatures. In 1809 Ackermann launched the monthly magazine The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashion and Politics. A ladies magazine, it continued for twenty years and circulated internationally. Finally, in 1823, Ackermann launched the highly successful Forget-me-Not. A richly illustrated literary annual, it again provided British artists with good opportunity for work. Rowlandson, for example, enjoyed near-permanent employment with Ackermann for over thirty years.
His love for England aside, Ackermann maintained close ties with Germany. Touched by the devastation suffered by Saxony during the Napoleonic Wars, he was joint-secretary of the Westminster Association and helped to collect close to £250,000 for orphans and widows after the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. His efforts were recognized by the King of Prussia and the King of Saxony and, in 1816, a Meissen neoclassical vase was presented to Ackermann on behalf of Frederick Augustus I of Saxony. It is decorated with a frieze showing the Emperor Trajan instituting the alimenta italiae, a system for child support in ancient Rome. A gift appropriate for Ackermann, it commemorates his efforts to aid his homeland during the Napoleonic Wars. The vase was acquired for the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1995 with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund (now The Art Fund)
Sadly, Ackermann’s life eventually went dark. Almost blind, he handed over his business to his sons in 1832. Rudolph Ackermann died in London in 1834.
Note: While Ackermann & Co closed in 1855, the print shop Ackermann & Son continued until 1992. Still, the Ackermann name remains present on Lowndes Street, London SW1X 9HY, where Arthur Ackermann & Peter Johnson Ltd. has been trading since 1956.
J. Ford, Ackermann, 1783-1983: The Business of Art, Ackermann & Son, 1983
J. Ford, ‘Rudolph Ackermann’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-8
C. Nieder, ‘Rudolph Ackermann und die englischen Hilfsaktionen 1807 und 1813’, Neues Archiv für sächsische Geschichte und Altertumskunde, 1921, pp. 242-255
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