As a painter, I wonder whether you have a favourite motif. Is there one aspect of your landscape work, maybe the sky, maybe trees, etc., which you feel that you excel at? If so, do you try and incorporate that feature into many of your paintings? My artist today seems to be a virtuoso when it came to depictions of water and the reflections on the surface and so many of his paintings include stretches of water. Let me introduce you to the Norwegian Impressionist landscape painter Johan Frederik Thaulow, better known as “Frits” Thaulow.
Johan Frederik Thaulow was born on October 20th, 1847 in the Norwegian capital, Christiania (renamed Oslo in 1925). He was one of ten children. His father was Harald Conrad Thaulow, a wealthy pharmacist and his mother was Nicoline (“Nina”) Louise Munch. In order to satisfy his father’s wishes he carried on with his normal school and college studies and eventually attained a doctorate but his real love was for art and specifically maritime art and so, in 1870, aged twenty-three, he went to Copenhagen to try to become a marine painter.
He enrolled on a two-year course at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen and one of his tutors was Carl Frederik Sørensen, the great Danish marine painter, whose paintings often depicted the relationship between weather and the effect it had on sea conditions.
In 1873, Thaulow left Copenhagen and travelled to Karlsruhe where, for two years, he attended the Baden School of Art. At the time one of the professors lecturing at the academy was the Norwegian Romanticist landscape and marine painter, Hans Fredrik Gude.
Gude had previously been a professor at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art and through his popularity especially with his fellow countrymen, had built up a sizeable number of Norwegian students. When he left the Academy to take up a post at the Baden School of Art many followed him.
In October 1874, Thaulow married Ingeborg Charlotte Gad, whose sister Mette-Sophie Gad had married Paul Gaugin, and a year later the couple had a daughter, Nina, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1886. In September of that same year, Thaulow re-married. His second wife was Alexandra Lasson, the daughter of Carl Lasson, a noted Norwegian attorney. Alexandra was fifteen years younger than Thaulow. The couple went on to have three children, two sons and a daughter. Harald was born a year after the marriage, Ingrid born in 1892 and Christian who was born in 1895.
In 1875, Thaulow departed Karlsruhe and journeyed to Paris where he lived for most of the next four years. During his time in the French capital he concentrated on his marine and coastal paintings whilst also absorbing the exciting times of the French art scene. The year before his arrival, the Impressionists had held their first exhibition at the former Parisian studio of the photographer Nadar at 35 Boulevard des Capucines Another influence on Thaulow was the work of the French realist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage. Thaulow believed in realism in art and considered that his fellow Norwegian artists should also consider this genre. Paris had always been popular with aspiring artists and had been fashionable among Norwegian artists. Thaulow became part of a group of Scandinavian landscape painters living in Paris, and worked with the Swedish painter Carl Skanberg, who was famous for his coastal, harbour paintings.
In the autumn of 1879 Thaulow left Paris and along with his friend and fellow artist Christian Krohg, a naturalist painter, illustrator, author, and journalist, and then the two arrived at Skagen from Norway in Thaulow’s little boat. Skagen was situated on the east coast of the Skagen Odde peninsula in the far north of Jutland. In the late 1870’s until the end of the nineteenth century, Denmark’s Skagen Art Colony became a magnet to numerous artists in the summer months who were drawn to the isolated fishing village and the quality of the light. The twilight of the early morning and evening was often referred to as the “blue hour” during which the sun is at a sizable depth below the horizon and this is a time when the remaining, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue shade.
The Skagen area also provided beautiful and unspoiled landscapes and seascapes. The artists were hailed as part of a modern breakthrough movement, which wanted to abandon the academic tradition of neoclassical painting styles which was taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and in its place these artists decided to follow the dictates of realism and naturalism which was part of the ethos of the Barbizon plein-air painters. They also became followers of the impressionist movements and by doing so, they could portray everyday life and everyday people in an un-idealized way. It was here that Thaulow’s depictions concentrated on the lives of the fishermen and the boats which had been dragged up onto the shore.
After his stay in Skagen, Thaulow returned to Norway in 1880. He became one of the leading young figures in the Norwegian art scene, together with Christian Krohg and Erik Werenskiold and with them organised the first National Art Exhibit in late 1882, known as the Høstutstillingen or Autumn Exhibition. This first Høstutstillingen was held in Oslo as a radical protest the established bourgeois dominance of the Christiania Art Society and these three organisers decided that they would not let, unlike the Christiania Art Society, an artist jury to decide what could be included in the exhibition.
Thaulow spent the next twelve years in Norway. It was a period during which Realist painting based on the French model was accepted in Norway. And Thaulow’s personal interpretation of the Norwegian landscape was generally believed to be new. Although based in Norway he made several trips abroad visiting Scotland and Venice and returning to Paris
One of my favourite works by Thaulow is one he completed in 1881 entitled View of Overgaden, Christianshavn. Christianshaven is a district of Copenhagen and the Christianhaven Canal bisects the neighbourhood. Christianshavns Kanal is now noted for its bustling sailing community with numerous houseboats and sailboats, particularly in the northern half of the canal. Overgaden oven Vandet and Overgaden neden Vandet are the two streets running along each side of the waterway. Beside Thaulow’s masterful depiction of the water, look at the detailed portrayal of the buildings and cobbled walkways.
………………………………………….. to be continued.