Sunday, 7 August 2011

"Forests, Rocks, Torrents" at the National Gallery, London

Forests, Rocks, Torrents at the National Gallery, London is currently displaying Norwegian and Swiss Landscapes from the Lunde Collection.

It includes 51 paintings from the private collection of Asbjørn Lunde, an American who has formed the world’s leading private collection of Norwegian and Swiss landscape paintings, primarily of the 19th century.  Most of the paintings have never been seen in the UK before, and are rarely on public view.

The idea behind the exhibition is to introduce a British audience - and, presumbaly, international visitors who visit the National Gallery - to landscapes by artists with whom they are less familiar. 
The 45 works displayed demonstrate the similarities of the Norwegian and Swiss traditions, but also the differences that climate, character, national temperament and political regimes impose on art.

Norway was engaged in a long struggle for freedom from Sweden and was poor, isolated and dependent for survival on its natural resources. Switzerland had been proudly independent for centuries and was prosperous, cosmopolitan and an early centre of industry.

How, the exhibition asks, are these realities implicated in their respective painting traditions?
The paintings are of two principal kinds:
  • small-scale landscape oil sketches and 
  • ‘finished’ paintings, some very large.
Landscape artists whose work is included in the exhibition include:
One of the most extraordinary innovators of the 19th century was Peder Balke – but only now is he re-emerging as a master of Norwegian landscape. His 'Moonlit View of Stockholm', with the spires of the city silhouetted against a stormy night sky, shows the direct influence of Dahl’s views of Dresden. Balke’s scenes of storms at sea and shipwrecks on rocky coasts are for the most part small black and white improvisations, thinly painted on board covered in smooth white ground ('Seascape').
Dahl loved Norway with the passion of a patriot. From the start of his career, he committed himself to depicting his nation, but in 1818 he moved to Dresden and began a long friendship with the German artist Caspar David Friedrich. Soon he became famous among Norwegians as their esteemed master in exile. A pilgrimage to Dresden to learn from Dahl became a necessity for any artist travelling from Norway to Italy.
  • Alexandre Calame 1810-1864 Swiss and father of the Swiss tradition of landscape painting
the artist widely regarded as the best Swiss landscapist is Alexandre Calame. His paintings owe much to the work of 17th-century Dutch landscape artists such as Jacob van Ruisdael in their portrayal of mountains, dense fir forests and raging torrents. Calame’s paintings of Lake Lucerne, such as 'Cliffs of Seelisberg, Lake Lucerne', are pervaded with a sense of nature’s grandeur and portray a harsh, majestic environment untouched by man. However, it was the theme of torrents that was central to Calame’s work, including the largest (98 x 138 cm) in the show, 'Mountain Torrent before a Storm'. This painting depicts the longest river in Switzerland, the Aare, and was acquired by Prince Yusupov of Russia.
  • Johann Gottfried Steffan 1815-1905, Swiss - one of the most important Siss landscape painters.
  • Caspar Wolf 1735-1783 a Swiss painter, known mostly for his dramatic paintings of Alps
  • Thomas Fearnley 1803-1842, Norwegian
Dahl's greatest student was Thomas Fearnley, and it is with this Norwegian master that the Norwegian and Swiss landscape traditions intersect. In 1835, on his return from Italy, Fearnley spent time in Switzerland painting. The show includes three works painted in consecutive months during this period: 'Near Meiringen', 10 June 1835; 'The Mountain Wetterhorn', 18 July 1835; and 'Valley of Lauterbrunnen', 26 August 1835. Two years later Fearnley was in England (his grandfather was a Yorkshireman) painting in London and the Lake District. His visit to the Lake District gave rise to nature studies which still surprise with their originality ('Fisherman at Derwentwater', 2 August 1837).
The links are to sites which provide images by the artist but these are not necessarily in the exhibition. The exhibition can be founbd in the Sunley Room until 18th September, Daily 10am–6pm, Friday until 9pm. Admission is free.

These are links to
From the title of the National Gallery's current exhibition, Forests, Rocks, Torrents, the most important noun has been omitted - Mountains. 

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