March 11, 2014

At the Met: Northern Painters, Modest Landscapes

Constantin Hansen (Danish), Columns of the Temple of Neptune at Paestum, 1838; oil on canvas,
12 5/8 x 10 in.

I rarely walk through the 19th century European paintings galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; my go-to galleries are the ones displaying early Italian Renaissance and early Netherlandish paintings, which feed my desire for clarity, simplicity, faith, and transcendent beauty. Of course there are many great paintings in the 19th century galleries, so on my most recent visit to the Met I took a walk through them, and was very happy to discover 3 or 4 small rooms tucked towards the rear that were full of beautiful, small landscape studies. The paintings I most admired were done by artists from northern Europe: Scandinavia––Denmark, Norway, Sweden––Flanders, and Germany. Over 30 years ago I spent some time in Norway and Denmark and was introduced to their 19th century painters, painters who I'd never heard about in the US. The work seemed very close to American Luminist painting in its clarity of light and form, its classic layering of space, and its modest size. (I wrote a blog post about Danish Golden Age Figure painting, which you can read here.) Since that time, these works have been seen in the US in various shows; all the works I am showing in the post were acquired by the Met in the last 10 years, according to their accession numbers. We are lucky to have them. Back then many artists took a painting tour in Italy, as we still do today. Several of the works in this post were in Gallery 806, which the museum has denoted as for the "School of Rome", comprising of artists in academies and also in a more informal community. Constantin Hansen was one of these artists....

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (Danish), A Section of the Via Sacra, Rome, ca. 1814-15; 
oil on canvas, 12 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. was Eckersberg. Hansen captures the golden southern light, while Eckersberg has a cooler northern eye. Forms are crisp, and also rich; a minimum of brush strokes depict variations of color and surface with careful attention.
*a note: because I have a preference to use my own photos whenever possible for blog posts, these images have a band of shadow across their tops, cast by the paintings' frames.

?German Painter (early 19th century), View from the Colosseum toward the Palatine;
oil on paper, laid down on cardboard, 10 x 14 7/8 in.

Carl Gustav Carus (German), Gothic Windows in the Ruins of the Monastery at Oybin, ca. 1828;
oil on canvas, 17 x 13 1/4 in.

There is a romantic interest in ruins, but the approach is straightforwardly descriptive and a warm light suffuses all.

Gustaf Söderberg (Swedish), The Grotto of Posillipo, Naples, 1820; 
oil on paper, laid down on Masonite, 9 7/8 x 6 1/4 in.

One thing I love about these small paintings is how the artists are able to achieve a grand sense of scale in a small size. The tiny figures, the small speck of a lighted opening, are dwarfed by the soaring walls of the grotto.

Wilhelm Bendz (Danish), Study of Light in a Vaulted Interior; oil on paper, laid down on canvas, 
6 1/8 x 8 1/4 in.

A soft interior light, straight lines under a curve, is contrasted with the simple bright opening. The rapid touch of this sketch is assured and vivid.

Johan Christian Dahl (Norwegian), View over Hallingdal, 1844; oil on canvas, 9 1/2 x 14 3/8 in.

Dahl was an important Norwegian painter, an early romantic painter of landscape. In this small study he depicted a wide vista of mountains and sky, and which give a sense of the spiritual within the vastness of space and light breaking through clouds.

Thomas Fearnley (1802-1842) (Norwegian), Monolith and Trees; oil on canvas, laid down on card,
4 3/4 x 6 7/8 in. 

Some landscapes focused on the singular object, a mass of rock carefully described, a dominating presence.

Thomas Fearnley, Sunset, Sorrento, 1834; oil on paper, laid down on card, 5 3/4 x 10 1/8 in.

Simon Denis (Flemish), Sunset, Rome, ca. 1789-1806; oil on paper, 8 1/4 x 10 3/8 in.

 The drama of sunsets has appealed to many artists. These two works are fresh and vivid representations.

Johan Thomas Lundbye (Danish), An Evening beside Lake Arresø, ca. 1837; 
oil on canvas, 9 x 11 3/4 in.

Here, another sunset, but this one placed within the dailyness of a human activity; its glow is lovely and subdued; the curve of the little bare tree balances the curve of the man walking with his gun. In all these small paintings I find a pleasure in looking at the world, and a joy in depicting it directly, without fuss. I am so glad that these paintings have found a home at the Met.

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