Eilif Peterssen

Self portrait by Eilif Peterssen (1876)

My featured artist today is one who produced many paintings of differing genres, such as history paintings, landscape and seascape paintings and portraiture.

 Hjalmar Eilif Emanuel Peterssen was born on September 4th, 1852 in Christiania, (known as Oslo since 1925), and spent his early life in the Christiania borough of Frogner.  He attended the local schools and at the age of seventeen enrolled at the city’s Johan Fredrik Eckersberg School of Painting.  This painting school, on Lille Grensen in Christiania, had been established in 1859 by the Norwegian artist, Johan Fredrik Eckersberg. After Eckersberg’s death in 1870, the running of the school was taken over by two Norwegian painters Knud Bergslien and Morten Müller.

Eilif Peterssen by Peder Severin Kroyer (1883)

From there, in 1871, Peterssen went to Denmark and studied briefly at the Art Academy in Copenhagen.  Later that year, Peterssen travelled to the German city of Karlsruhe where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and was student of Ludwig des Coudres, the German history and portrait painter and first director of the academy, and the German landscape painter, Wilhelm Riefstahl.  Also resident professor at the Academy was Hans Gude, who was considered to be one of Norway’s foremost landscape painters.  Another painter who influenced Peterssen during his stay in Karlsruhe was the history painter Carl Friedrich Lessings and his richly landscaped landscapes with historical scenes.  Lessings was a director at the Academy.

 In the Autumn of 1873, Peterssen moved to Munich he became a pupil at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts and one of his tutors was Wilhelm von Diez, the German painter and illustrator of the Munich School.  He also spent time studying under Franz von Lenbach.

Christian II signing the Death Warrant of Torben Oxe by Eilif Peterssen

Every successful artist needs to have had a breakthrough painting, one which announces his arrival on the art scene.  For Peterssen his breakthrough work was an historical painting he completed in 1876 entitled Christian II Signing the Death Warrant of Torben Oxe.  The story behind the depiction is from sixteenth century history of the Nordic countries.  Christian II was the last Roman Catholic king of Denmark and Torben Oxe was a noble who was appointed Governor of Copenhagen Castle. In the summer of 1517, Dyveke Sigbritsdatter, the king’s mistress, fell ill and died and Torben Oxe was accused by Dyveke’s mother of her daughter’s murder by poisoning her through a box of cherries. Christian II believed the accusation and condemned his friend Oxe to death.  In the painting we see Christian, unmoved by the momentous event, signing the death warrant.  His wife, is at her husband’s left and is seen pleading with her husband for Oxe’s life.  Oxe was beheaded, and his body burned.

Three Women in Church by Wilhelm Leibl (1878-81)

Eilif Peterssen’s portraiture had become very popular and besides his commissioned works he would paint many un-commissioned portraits of people.  In my Daily Art Display of March 1st, 2011, I showcased an oil on mahogany masterpiece by the acclaimed German realist artist Wilhelm Liebl entitled Three Women in a Church.  He started the work in October 1878 and did not complete it until December 1881.  It is a depiction of three women of three different generations, dressed in regional costumes, sitting in a church.

In the Church by Eilif Peterssen (1878)

In 1878 Peterssen completed a very similar depiction, Under Salmesangen (In the Church).  Again, like Liebl’s work, Peterssen has depicted three women of different generations sitting together.  The old lady, dressed in widow’s garb is seated in the centre with her hands clasped in prayer and rosary beads dangling from her wrists.  She looks upwards as she prays. Maybe she is asking for divine strength to carry on with life. To her right sits a young girl, curls of her red hair lay across her forehead and to the old lady’s left sits a young woman, who with folded hands, demurely peruses her hymn book.  I like the way Peterssen has depicted the facial expression of the young woman – shy and demure, and lost in thought.

Judas Iskariot by Eilif Peterssen (1878)

In the same year he painted a religious work entitled Judas Iskariot which is housed in the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromso.  The light from the lamp that Judas is carrying lights up the face of Christ.  I am fascinated by Peterssen’s depiction of Christ’s facial expression in the painting.

Mary, Christ’s Mother by Eilif Peterssen (1877)

The previous year, 1877, Peterssen was invited to participate in a competition to produce an altarpiece for the newly built church of St Johannes in Oslo.  He was then commissioned to paint a crucifixion scene part of which would be his depiction of the Virgin Mary entitled Mary, Christ’s Mother.  The brown and red tones he used in this portrait were similar to the ones he used in his depiction of Judas Iscariot and was influenced by the brownish palette of the Munich School painters.

In 1879, aged twenty-seven, Eilif Peterssen married Nicoline Gram, the daughter of Major General Johan Georg Boll Gram, the Court Marshal.

Breakfast in Sora by Peder Severin Krøyer (1880)

Peterssen and his wife Nicoline visited Sora, a town in the Italian commune of Lazio, in 1880 together with the Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer, and this was captured in Krøyer’s painting Breakfast in Sora which depicted himself with Nicoline and Eilif Peterssen, and the painter Christian Meyer Ross.

Siesta i et osteria i Sora by Eilif Peterssen (1880)

Peterssen also documented his stay to the mountain village of Sora with his 1880 painting set in an Osteria, a place for serving wine and simple food, Siesta in an Osteria in Sora.

Kunstnerens hustru Nicoline Peterssen, født Gram (The Artist’s Wife Nicoline Peterssen, born Gram) by Eilif Peterssen

Sadly, the Peterssen’s marriage to Nicoline lasted just three years as Nicoline died in 1882, aged thirty-two.  Eilif painted a picture of his wife entitled Kunstnerens hustru Nicoline Peterssen, født Gram (The Artist’s Wife Nicoline Peterssen, born Gram).  I think it is a somewhat unflattering depiction of his wife.

Moonrise over the Dunes by Eilif Peterssen (1883)

A year after his wife’s death, Peterssen went to the Danish artist colony of Skagen in the summer of 1883.  Since the 1870’s, the Northern Danish coastal village of Skagen was a summer meeting place for a group of Scandinavian artists, such as the husband and wife pair, Michael and Anna Ancher, Christian Krohg and Peder Severin Krøyer.  The area around the village attracted the plein air artists because of its scenic delight and the quality of light.  It was often compared to what the Barbizon School of painters found in and around the Forest of Fontainebleau.  One painting completed during his stay at Skagen was his moonscape, Moonrise over the Dunes.

Landscape from Meudon, France (1884)

Petersen travelled around Europe, visiting France and Italy during the next couple of years including visiting Venice in 1885 accompanied by Frits Thaulow.  Whilst visiting Paris in 1884 he completed a beautiful landscape work entitled Landscape from Meudon, France which is a depiction of the Seine riverside by the town of Meudon, a municipality in the southwestern suburbs of Paris.

Portrait of Edvard Grieg by Eilif Peterssen (1891)

Peterssen eventually returned to Norway in 1886 and established himself as a skilful portrait artist.

Portrait of Norwegian Author Henrik Ibsen by Eilif Peterssen (1895)

Two well-known Norwegian personalities featured in portraits by Peterssen, the composer Edvard Grieg and the writer Hendrik Ibsen.

Summer Night by Eilif Peterssen (1886)

It was in 1886 that Peterssen completed his most famous work and one which caught my eye and one that made me research into his life and other works.  The oil on canvas painting was entitled Sommernatt (Summer Night), which is housed in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design – The National Gallery, Oslo, came about when Peterssen along with a group of artist friends, including Norwegian painters Christian Skredsvig, Gerhard Munthe, Kitty Kielland, Harriet Backer, and Erik Werenskiold, some of whom he had met whilst a student in Munich stayed at a farmstead in Fleskum, just outside of Oslo which was owned by painter and writer, Christian Skredsvig, who like Peterssen was a pupil at the Eckersberg drawing and paint school in Christiania and a student at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.  In the history of Norwegian art, the Fleskum artists’ colony was a significant breakthrough of plein-air painting in Norway and heralded the arrival of Neo-Romanticism in Norway.   Peterssen’s Summer Night was the most important to come out from that 1886 Fleskum gathering.  As observers we stare down at the still water of the lake during the last light of a summer’s day.  Strangely, there is little shown of the sky, but the reflection of the crescent moon is a reminder of the clear sky above.  Some have suggested at a hint of symbolism with this painting with the contrast between the sturdy upright tree in the right foreground and the dead birch tree, to the left, which has died and rotting, having fallen lifelessly into the lake.  Is this symbolic of life itself, from sturdy youthful growth to inevitable death?

Nocturne by Eilif Peterssen (1887)

The following year, 1887, Peterssen completed his painting Nocturne, which was the same view of the lake as in his Summer Night painting, but this time he has added some flowers, and a nude.

In 1888, six years after his first wife died, Peterssen re-married.  His second wife was Frederikke Magdalene (“Magda”) Kielland, daughter of Lieutenant Commander Jacob Kielland.

Sunshine, Kalvøya by Eilif Peterssen (1891)

Like many painters in the late nineteenth century Peterssen was aware of the work of the French Impressionists.  One of his works which is often likened to Impressionism style, with its broad-brush strokes used to depict the foliage, was his 1891 work entitled Sunshine Kalvøya, which is one he painted whilst he and his wife were on the island of Kalvøya, which lies off the town of Sandvika, about twenty miles west of Oslo.  This is a depiction of Peterssen’s second wife and so the painting is often referred to as Magda Sewing. We see her absorbed in her needlework surrounded by a lush green landscape, lit up by the full summer sun.  It is a veritable depiction of peace, tranquillity, and contentment

From the Norwegian Archipelago by Eilif Peterssen (1894),

One of Peterssen’s favourite haunts was Sele on the west coast of Norway and the views of the many small islands separated by the branchlike Inner Leads which separate the small islands.  His 1894 painting, From the Norwegian Archipelago, depicts a view of these inner leads.  In the right foreground of this exquisite work we see a woman standing amongst the low vegetation.  She is wearing traditional clothes and is busy with her knitting.  She leans back against a low multi-coloured dry-stone wall.  On the other side of the lead we see several red roofed houses and crofts.  A sailing boat in full-sail goes past, navigating the blue waters.

Kveld, Sele (Gedine on a Hillock) by Eilif Peterssen (1896)

Another painting completed by Peterssen in 1896 was set in Sele.  It is entitled Kveld, Sele (Gedine på haugen) – Evening, Sele (Gedine on a Hillock).  The painting takes in the beautiful colours brought on by the setting of the sun at dusk.  In the foreground we see a young girl, Gedine, a friend of Peterssen sitting on a hillock made of large grey stones.  She is lost in contemplation as she gazes out across the flat landscape towards the sea.

On the Look-out by Eilif Peterssen (1889)

A third painting completed by Peterssen and set on Sele which I really like, is his 1889 work entitled On the Look-out.  In the painting we see five men, four lying on the sand and one seated, all gazing seawards, almost certainly trying to catch a glimpse of the returning fishing fleet.

Old House in Normandy by Eilif Peterssen (1896)

Eilif Peterssen, during his lifetime, made several trips to France and Italy. In 1896 he went to Arques-la-Bataille, a small commune in the Seine-Maritime department of Normandy, a few miles south of Dieppe.  It is a beautiful area where three rivers, Eaulne, Varenne and Béthune converge and in close proximity of the Forest of Arques.  It was during his time here that he completed several landscape paintings including Old House in Normandy.

At the start of the twentieth century Peterssen became interested in Symbolism and was influenced by the colourful work of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Around this time, he completed a number of works focused on French medieval legends. Even during his later life Peterssen continued to travel tirelessly around his own country and even though a few years from his seventieth birthday he was still able to make the long journey to the South of France visiting the small towns of Cagnes and St Paul in Provence.
Hjalmar Eilif Emanuel Peterssen died in Lysaker, a town close to Oslo, on December 29th 1928, aged 76.

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Frits Thaulow. Part 2 – the realist landscape painter.

Frits Thaulow at work

Many of Thaulow’s best known Norwegian scenes are from Åsgårdstrand, a town 100 km south of Oslo.  It had become a significant centre for artists and painters from the 1880’s. The town had been home to many internationally famous painter, such as Edvard Munch, Christian Krogh, and Hans Heyerdahl, who had either visited or lived in the town.  Again, like Skagen, the reason it was popular with painters was because of its unique light which the best artists wanted to depict in their works.

Street in Kragerø by Frits Thaulow (1882)

Thaulow visited the Norwegian coastal town of Kragerø which was, and still is, a place where people went to “get away from it all”.  It was a location which the great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch fell in love with, calling it ” Perlen blandt kystbyene (The Pearl of the Coastal Towns). The town of Kragerø is characterized by clear, blue water and beautiful views.

Houses in Kragerø by Frits Thaulow (1882)

However, in one of Thaulow’s paintings of the town, Houses in Kragerø, we see a more realistic depiction of it.  Gone are the blue water and beautiful views and instead we see an everyday view of the backs of the old houses with clothes pegged to a washing line fluttering in a strong breeze.  There is a lack of bright colours, a lack of blue skies, just a simple depiction of an area of the town, “warts and all”.

Haugsfossen ved Modum by Frits Thaulow (1883)

In 1883 after a visit to Blaafarveværket, a cobalt mining and industrial company located at Amort in Modum in the Norwegian county of Buskerud, some thirty miles west of Oslo.  Here there is the spectacular Haugsfossen waterfall and it was here that Thaulow completed his 1883 painting entitled Haugsfossen ved ModumIt is a spectacular painting and once again we witness Thaulow’s great talent when it comes to painting scenes which include stretches of water.  The green tones used for the water when combined with shades of white in contrast to the black rocks allow us to imagine the ferocity of the water has it hurtles down the waterfall, carrying with it fallen logs.

Rialto by Frits Thaulow (1895)

Thaulow travelled to Venice on a number of occasions in the 1890’s and made many sketches and paintings of the city highlighting the city’s canals and architecture and completed many paintings of that city.  In 1892, Thaulow returned once again to France but this time to make it his home.  Originally, he lived in Paris but soon tired of the hustle and bustle and preferred a quieter life in the smaller towns of Dieppe, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Quimperle in Brittany and further south, the town of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.

Back Mills, Montreuil-sur-Mer by Frits Thaulow (1892)

Frits Thaulow had met Claude Monet when he was in Paris and a friendship between the two plein-air painters developed.   Both Thaulow and Monet painted in Normandy with Monet preferring to base himself on the coast and depict the stormy sea and the windswept coastal landscapes whereas Thaulow preferred the tranquillity of painting on quiet rivers.

A Stream in Spring by Frits Thaulow

Thaulow’s weather tends to be calmer which in a way was more in keeping with his temperament. Thaulow said of himself:

“…I am more drawn to the gentle and harmonic than to the vigorous…”

Thaulow had urged Monet to paint in Norway, and the French artist finally acquiesced and travelled there in the winter of 1895, to visit his stepson, Jacques Hoschedé, who lived in Christiania. It proved a disastrous visit because of the severe winter climate with the temperature at minus twenty degrees Celsius when he arrived and because of the amount of snow falling, painting outdoors was a very difficult chore for Monet.  One of the works completed during the visit was Sandvika.  This small town just south-west of Oslo, looks as though it had been done in a blizzard.

Sandvika, Norway by Monet (1895)

It is interesting to note the colours used in the painting – cold blues and lavender whereas Thaulow often used gold and yellow in his winter scenes giving it a slightly warmer feeling.  Maybe Monet just wanted to make sure we knew how cold and uncomfortable it was to paint winter scenes in such conditions whereas Thaulow was more forgiving.

The Akerselven River in the Snow by Frits Thaulow

Despite the adverse conditions, Monet painted twenty-nine Norwegian scenes during his two-month stay and these included at least six views of Sandvika.  It is thought that the iron bridge we see in the foreground may have reminded Monet of the Japanese bridge at his home in Giverny.  Monet never returned to Norway – he had had enough of the cold and inhospitable climate.

Evening in Camiers by Frits Thaulow (1893)

The Normandy coastal village of Camiers, which lies about ten miles south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, was visited by Thaulow in 1893 and that year he completed a painting depicting the village, entitled Evening in Camiers in which we see the sun setting over the dunes and rose-tinted houses caught up in the evening sunlight.

Thaulow the Painter and his Children by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1895)

Through an 1895 painting by Jaques-Emile Blanche we get an insight into Thaulow’s family life.   In the portrait, Thaulow the Painter and his Children, also known as The Thaulow Family, Frits Thaulow appeared with his daughter Else, aged 15 from his first marriage and two of the children from his second marriage, Harold then aged 8 and Ingrid aged 3.  The third child from his second marriage, Christian, was only born that year and does not appear in the work. The painting is housed in the Musée d’Orsay.  Blanche’s portrait was presented at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1896, was greeted with unanimous critical acclaim, which prompted Blanche to say later that this work was the one that “made him a painter”.

The Adige River at Verona by Frits Thaulow

In the 1890’s Thaulow travelled to various European cities constantly sketching and painting what he observed.  On his trip through northern Italy in 1894, he visited Verona on his way to Venice and completed a painting entitled The Adige River at Verona.  In this work Thaulow used only muted colours and understated tonal harmonies which depict the view of the fast-flowing Adige River as it passes beneath the five arches of the sixteenth century Ponte della Pietra.  In the background, we can see the Duomo of S. Maria Matricolare, and to the right the Sanmicheli’s campanile.

Small town near La Panne by Frits Thaulow (1905)

In the summer of 1905 Frits Thaulow spent some time with his family at La Panne, a small Flemish coastal resort. He had bought himself a small car and with this new-found transport was able to drive himself and his family to small Belgian towns in the area always looking for subjects for his paintings.  One such painting was his 1905 work entitled Small Town Near La Panne.  In the painting, we see small town houses nestled on the river bank and in the mid-ground a small arched bridge.  Thaulow made three versions of this scene all slightly different in the way he depicted the bridge and the houses.

Evening at the Bay of Frogner by Frits Thaulow (1880)

Thaulow received several honours for his artistic work including his appointment as commander of the 2nd Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1905. He received the French Legion of Honour, Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Italy and the Order of Nichan Iftikhar from Tunisia.

Johan Frederik “Frits” Thaulow
1847-1906

Thaulow developed diabetes in 1897, a time before insulin had been developed and his condition worsened over the next nine years Thaulow died in Volendam, in the Netherlands on November 5th 1906, aged 59.

Thaulow was a painter working within the framework of Realism, to which he made an original contribution. He forged a friendship with Monet and Rodin and was a valuable connection between Norwegian and French art.

Frits Thaulow. Part 1 – the early days.

Portrait of Frits Thaulow by Christian Krohg

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.

An Orchard on the Banks of a River by 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.

Sailing Ships in the Strait South of Kronborg by Carl Frederik Sorensen (1857)

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.

The Mill Stream by Frits Thaulow

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.

Hardanger Fjord by 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.

Landscape and River by Frits Thaulow

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.

High Tide, Le Havre (1878) by Frits Thaulow

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.

Skagen Painters,1883, Frits Thaulow

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.

A Stream in Spring by Frits Thaulow

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.

Evening at the Bay of Frogner by Frits Thaulow (1880)

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

View of Overgaden, Christianshavn by Frits Thaulow (1881)

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.

Thorolf Holmboe

Thorolf Holmboe
Thorolf Holmboe

In past blogs I have looked at some of the well known Norwegian painters such as Edvard Munch, Thomas Fearnley, Johan Christian Dahl and Peder Balke.  In today’s short blog I am going to examine the life and work of another artist from that country, one less well-known, Thorolf Holmboe.

Thorolf Holmboe (Norwegian, 1866-1935), Landscape in Moonlight with a House, by Thorolf Holmboe (1914) Oil on canvas, (120 x 80 cms).
Landscape in Moonlight with a House, by Thorolf Holmboe (1914)
Oil on canvas,
(120 x 80 cms).

Thorolf Holmbloe was born in May 1866 in Vefsn a municipality in Helgeland which is the most southerly district in Northern Norway.  He was the eldest son of Othar Ervigius Holmbloe, a Customs cashier and Sofie Birgitte Andrea Hall.  He had two sisters, an elder one, Halfrid and a younger one, Gudrun and four younger brothers, Othar, who was also an artist and illustrator although he trained as a chemist and Birger, Jens and Thorvald.  Around the age of eight Thorolf and his family moved to the coastal town of Tromso and it was around this time he received his first watercolour painting lessons.  His father, who had an interest in art and was a founder of a local gallery, and probably encouraged his son to take up painting.

Still life by Thorolf Holmboe (1907)
Still life by Thorolf Holmboe (1907)

Thorolf attended school in Christiania (now called Oslo) and graduated in 1884.  He then attended the military academy where he was a reserve officer in 1886.  In 1886, he studied marine art under the Norwegian marine painter, Carl Wilhelm Barth.  That year he travelled to Berlin where he enrolled, for a year, at the Berlin Academy of Art and studied under the professorship of the Norwegian romanticist artist and revered landscape painter Hans Gude.  After returning to Norway he studied at the Drawing School in Christiania under the sculptor, Julius Middelthun.

In August 1888 Thorolf married Julia Caspara Nilssen and the couple went on to have two children, a son, Erik Oscar born in 1895 and a daughter Erna Johanne who was born in 1899.

Fishing Village, Lofoten by Thorolf Holmboe
Fishing Village, Lofoten by Thorolf Holmboe

In 1889 he again left home to study art.  This time Holmbloe travelled to Paris where he remained for two years and studied at the atelier of the French painter, Fernand Cormon, who was a regular exhibitor at the annual Paris Salon.  Cormon had in the past had Toulouse-Lautrec, Louis Anquetin,  Van Gogh and Émile Bernard as former students.  Holmboe also attended classes at the École des Beaux-Arts where he was tutored by the French painter, Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat .

Nordic Landscape (Nordlandsmotiv) by Thorolf Holmboe
Nordic Landscape (Nordlandsmotiv) by Thorolf Holmboe

Many of the Norwegian artists at the time completed paintings which formed what was termed a “Norwegian style” as they focused wholly or in part on aspects of Norwegian heritage.  Holmboe avoided this style and instead focused on Norwegian nature especially around his former home in the north of the country.  For him the beauty of his homeland is what he wanted to bring to the fore and this style was very popular with buyers in Norway and the rest of the world.

The Journey by Thorolf Holmboe
The Journey by Thorolf Holmboe

He completed many seascapes and it was probably his early life around Vefsn and Tromso that had such a great influence on his art.  He developed a strong affinity for the ocean and the power of the sea and this empathy with the power of nature stayed with him for the rest of his life.

He exhibited in Munich in 1891 and Paris in 1900 and went on to exhibit internationally and was granted solo exhibitions in Paris, Antwerp, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and London.  In his 1907 exhibition in London he exhibited many of his snow scenes.  More recently his work appeared in an exhibition entitled Symbolism in Norwegian Landscape Painting at the Palazzo del Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy in 2001.

Thorolf Holmboe "Polar bear on Ice" design for Porsgrund porcelain vase
Thorolf Holmboe “Polar bear on Ice” design for Porsgrund porcelain vase

Between 1906 and 1925, Holmboe came up with designs and artwork for the famous Norwegian pottery maker, Porsgrund.  The pottery with some of his designs were used as decoration in the exhibition halls of the 1913 Prima Esposizione internazionale d’arte della Secessione Romana (First Roman Secession Exhibition).

Marine painting by Thorolf Holmboe
Marine painting by Thorolf Holmboe

Many of Holmbloe’s paintings featured seabirds, rocky cliffs and the rough coastal waters

Fra Akerselven (From Akerselven) by Thorolf Holmboe
Fra Akerselven (From Akerselven) by Thorolf Holmboe

Around the start of the twentieth century Holmboe’s paintings took on a more gloomy appearance.  It was also around the time that he completed paintings featuring the River Akerselven which flows through the city of Oslo.  One such work is his 1902 painting entitled Fra Akerselven (From Akerselven).  It depicts the River Akerselven which flows through the Norwegian city.

Utsikt over Akerselven by Thorolf Holmboe (1903)
Utsikt over Akerselven by Thorolf Holmboe (1903)

Another painting featuring the river was done in 1903 entitled Utsikt over Akerselven (Overlooking Alerselven).  Once again it is a painting made up of dark and muted colours and this has added to the realism of the depiction.

Illustration to The Trumpet of Nordland
Illustration to The Trumpet of Nordland

One of the most original Norwegian writers of the nineteenth century was the Lutheran priest and poet,  Petter Dass, whose most famous work was Nordlands trompet (The Trumpet of Nordland), a versified topographical description of northern Norway.  It gives a lively picture, in verse, of the life of a clergyman in this part of the country.  In the 1892 the edition of Petter Dass’ book, with its descriptions of the people and nature of Northern Norway, it was accompanied by the illustrations of Thorolf Holmboe.   Holmboe also designed many book covers, folders, telegrams and postcards.

Hekkende skarv (Nesting Cormorants) by Thorolf Holmbloe
Hekkende skarv (Nesting Cormorants) by Thorolf Holmbloe

In 1908 Holmboe participated in a hunting expedition to Spitsbergen and Hopen where he painted hunting and wildlife. Particularly popular were the pictures of polar bears that “sail” on ice floes (see the Porsgrund vase above).

Peonies in a Vase by Thorolf Holmboe
Peonies in a Vase by Thorolf Holmboe

The first decade of the twentieth century proved a difficult time for Holmboe to sell his works of art and despite his huge popularity at home he could not establish himself internationally and so he relied financially on his book illustration work and decoration designs.   However it was not all gloom for him in that first decade as he did receive good reviews of his marine paintings when they were exhibited in Antwerp in 1903 and 1904 and in Berlin in 1907 and 1909.  Things changed after the First World War with their being a greater demand for works of art and Holmboe was ready having built up a large collection of his paintings.   The subjects of these works were varied and included bathing scenes, marine life, still lifes, interiors and garden landscapes.  Thorolf Holmboe was appointed Knight of the 1st Class Order of St. Olav in 1900 and he was knighted by the French Legion of Honour.

Thorolf Holmboe died in Oslo in March 1935, aged 68.

Peder Balke. Part 2 – The great Norwegian journey and disillusionment

Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl  (1827)
Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl (1827)

Balke returned to Christiania in 1830 and stayed with Professor Rathke and in that May travelled to Copenhagen and was fortunate to be able to view royal collections of art.  Of all the works he saw, Balke was most impressed by a winter landscape painted by Johan Christian Dahl, entitled Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, which he completed in 1827.  The large (173 x 205cms) work of art depicts a somewhat oppressive atmosphere with its undertones of death, symbolised by the dolmen behind the lifeless branches of the two oak trees. A dolmen is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone.  Nature is depicted in the form of its icy winter garb.  He wrote of the painting to Rathke saying that it was the most life-like painting he had ever seen.  The fact that he had managed to see the works of the great Masters at the royal collection, although influencing him, also depressed him somewhat as to his own ability.  He wrote:

“…I sometimes felt a certain heaviness of heart and lack of courage when I compared my own insignificance with these true masterpieces; quietly and I admit somewhat superficially I calculated how much I would have to learn and how many ordeals I would have to go through before I would be able to achieve a mere fraction of the perfection in aptitude and skill in execution exuded by these paintings…”

North Cape by Peder Balke (1945)
North Cape by Peder Balke (1945)

Balke was determined to succeed and in the summer of 1830 having returned to Norway from Copenhagen he set off on foot on an artistic journey through the Telemark region and over the mountains to western Norway and then north to Bergen returning to Christiania via the Naeroydalen valley and the town of Gudvangen.  He later recalled his short time spent in the area around Gudvangen, writing:

“.. I first arrived late at night, because I became so engrossed in admiring the sublime beauty of Naeroydalen that I hardly knew whether what surrounded me was real or supernatural.  So fascinating and uplifting did my youthful imagination, with its passion for the beauties of nature….”

From North Cape by Peder Balke (c.1860's)
From North Cape by Peder Balke (c.1860’s)

Two years later, in April 1832, Balke set off another artistic journey.  This time, setting off in his own carriage he went to Trondheim where he was to catch a boat to the north of the country.  His planned journey hit a snag when he arrived late in Trondheim and missed the boat.  He had to wait a further seven weeks for the next boat but spent the time sketching the town and the surrounding areas.  Peder Balke finally embarked on his northbound boat trip, passing the Lofoten Islands and arrived at Tromso.  From there the boat went further north to Hammerfest and then proceeded around the North Cape to Vardø and Vadsø.  He was the first Norwegian painter to record the harsh beauty of the northern landscape.  Eventually Balke and the boat returned to Trondheim.  During the long journey Balke had completed a large collection of sketches of the places he had seen and many were used in his many seascape and moonscape works of art which he worked on when he returned to Stockholm.  He sold many of his paintings to wealthy Norwegians and Swedes as well as members of the royal family.  In 1834, now, financially secure, Peder married Karen Eriksdatter, the woman he had been secretly engaged to for several years, but had been too poor to marry.

The Severn Sisters by Peder Balke (1847)
The Severn Sisters by Peder Balke (1847)

The couple settled in Christiania and Balke, now accepted, not simply as a decorator but as a landscape artist, tried to establish himself and sell his artworks.  However competition at the time was too great and the sales he had hoped for never materialised.  However, in 1835, he managed to sell another of his works to the king and with that money he decided on fulfilling his dream of travelling to Dresden and work with the Norwegian artist, J C Dahl.   Many Norwegian artists had trodden this path, including Thomas Fearnley (see My Daily Art Display November 24th & 28th 2012).  With help from a friend, Balke set off for Germany and reached Berlin in the winter of that year.  He remained in Berlin for several weeks and was able to visit the Royal Museum and whilst in the German city he saw paintings by the German romantic landscape painter, Casper David Friedrich.  It was this artist who was going to have a great and lasting influence on Balke.

Ship in Breaking Waves by Peder Balke (c.1849)
Ship in Breaking Waves by Peder Balke (c.1849)

Balke left Berlin and travelled to Dresden via Leipzig.  He received a great welcome from Johan Dahl who helped him find accommodation.  J C Dahl introduced Balke to Casper David Friedrich and Balke was able to watch the two great artists at work.  In a letter to Rathke, dated March 29th 1836, he wrote about watching J C Dahl at work:

“..to see Dahl paint, I know with which colours and have seen how he uses them, and though I at present cannot proceed successfully in the same manner I hope that with time I will also reap the benefit.  What I regret most is my lack of studies from nature.  Dahl certainly has several thousands of them, of all kinds.  He has told me there is no other way to become a real painter than by painting from nature, which admittedly has been my intention, and I shall now try to see whether I can make up for what I have hitherto neglected, in Norway, though not in Germany – there is no nature here…”

Sami with Reindeer Under the Midnight Sun by Peder Balke, (c.1850)
Sami with Reindeer Under the Midnight Sun by Peder Balke, (c.1850)

Balke left Dresden but returned in the 1840’s to work once again with J C Dahl.  Landscape art was popular in Norway and Balke managed to sell many of his works but things were to change when a number of young Norwegian landscape artists having returned from studying at the Dusseldorf Academy, which at the time was looked upon as the most modern art-educational institute.  The teaching of landscape art was more to do with what was termed “cautious Realism” rather than Balke’s Romantic landscapes which suddenly became less fashionable.  He had to endure much criticism with regards his work which had once been loved by his people.  In an article in a 1944 edition of Morgenbladet, the eminent art critic Emil Tidemand scathingly wrote about Balke’s paintings:

“… There is no question here of a grandiose, poetic perception: no not even the simplest technical demands of drawing, perspective, clarity, strength and depth of colour have been met……………….This is not a representation of nature – his whole production is merely the mark of a dirty palette handled without discrimination…”

Old Trees by Peder Balke (c.1849)
Old Trees by Peder Balke (c.1849)

Maybe it was the vitriolic criticism which made Balke realise that there would be no hope of becoming financially secure through his art sales in Norway and so in 1844 he, along with his pregnant wife and three young children, left their homeland and travelled to Paris via Copenhagen and Germany  There was also another reason to visit Paris and this was that Balke was well aware that the country’s ruler Louis-Philippe had, as a young prince in exile in 1795, travelled along the Norwegian coast from Trondheim to the North Cape just as he had done.  As Balke did not speak French he asked a friend to write a letter on his behalf to the king in which he reminded the king of his exile and his Norwegian journey and that his nine sketches of the area would remind the king of that journey.  Louis-Philippe was intrigued and summoned Balke to the palace.  Balke and the king immediately became close and the two would meet regularly and reminisce about their travels to the North Cape

A View of the Sarpsfoss Waterfalls, Norway by Peder Balke (c.1859)
A View of the Sarpsfoss Waterfalls, Norway by Peder Balke (c.1859)

Louis-Philippe commissioned a set of paintings derived from the sketches.  Balke’s financial future seemed to have been rescued and he set to work on the commission.  Alas fate was to take a hand in the form of the February Revolution of 1848 which saw the downfall of Louis-Philippe.  Balke realising the dangers of being close to the unpopular ruler decided in late 1847 that he and his family would have to hurriedly leave Paris which meant he had to abandon, what was to have been a very lucrative commission.  Balke moved back to Dresden.  Shortly after his arrival in the German city in 1848 his young son Johann died.  His death came around the same time that his wife gave birth to their daughter Frederikke.  Sales of his art in Dresden were hard to come by and so he decided to leave his family with a friend and head back to Christiania.  He managed to sell some of his work, one of which was The North Cape by Moonlight but still the Norwegian people favoured the Dusseldorf School of landscape painting and so Balke returned to his family in Dresden.  In the Spring of 1849 he and his family moved to London where Balke believed his art would be more appreciated.  London had fallen under the spell of Joseph Mallord William Turner and his marine paintings and so Balke believed his works of art would do well.  He was proved right and managed to sell more of his works of art.

Balkeby  1860-70
Balkeby
1860-70

In the autumn of 1850 Balke and his family moved back to Christiania.  In 1855 his good friend and benefactor Professor Rathke died and left Balke a sizeable amount of money which Balke used to buy eight acres of land just outside the city limits at a place known as Vestre Aker.  He virtually abandoned his career as an artist of large scale landscape works, concentrating on small scale paintings which he believed would be bought by the middle class.  He now concentrated on his property portfolio and in particular the development of housing for workers in his newly attained property in the suburb of Balkeby, He dabbled in local politics championing the cause of pensions for men and women, and also of grants for artists. His painting was now just a hobby and for his own pleasure.

The Old Bridge by Peder Balke (c.1869)
The Old Bridge by Peder Balke (c.1869)

Balke, as you may realise, was an unlucky man and more bad luck came in June 1879 when his beloved Balkeby went up in flames.  Nearly every house, including his own, was burnt to the ground.  Four years later Balke suffered a stroke, and he died in Christiania on February 15th 1887 aged 82.  The obituaries that followed after his death were all about his political work and little was said about Balke the artist.  Maybe his penchant for ignoring criticism and sticking to what he believed in was apparent in the obituary which appeared in the magazine Verdens Gang in March 1887.  It emphasised Balke’s pugnacity:

“…Fearless and straightforward as he was, it would never occur to him to defer to people in an argument.  He considered only the matter in hand and did not bother in the least about who was for or against him.  This does not always result in popularity…”

I can recommend an excellent book about the artist and his work entitled Paintings by Peder Balke, from which I derived most of my information about this Norwegian painter.

Peder Balke. Part 1 – His early life and struggles to become a painter

Peder Balke (1804-1887)
Peder Balke
(1804-1887)

I suppose if you are a landscape or seascape artist it is ideal to be living amongst glorious scenery or rugged coastlines which inspire you to paint and is much better than having to move to an artist colony in some idyllic area to find inspiration.   The artist I am featuring today was fortunate enough to come from a country of amazing natural beauty which he often depicted in his works of art.  Today let me introduce you to the nineteenth century Norwegian painter, Peder Balke, who specialised in landscape and seascape paintings with a romantic and dramatic connotation.

Peder Balke was the younger son of Anders Thoresen and Pernille Pedersdatter and born August 28th 1804.  He was christened Peder Andersen on November 4th.  Information about his early years was given by Balke in a dictated version of his life story, seventy years later.  He reminisced:

“… I was born on the island of Helgøya, in Nes in the country of Hedmark on 4 November 1804 in poverty, my situation in life being therefore less than enviable.  Yet the nearly influence of an affectionate and conscientious mother with constant good advice and exemplary admonitions was of the greatest benefit to my youthful and perhaps exceptionally lively temperament – for it is in these years of one’s development that the seeds are sown of both good and evil, though only later in life does one value their significance correctly…”

Christiania Viewed from Ekeberg by Peder Balke (c.1829)
Christiania Viewed from Ekeberg by Peder Balke (c.1829)

He did not have an easy start to life his family being part of the lowest ranks of the peasant society.  His parents were simple farm labourers working on a farm called Svennerud on the island of Helgøya, which lies in the middle of Lake Mjøsa, , some 60 kilometres north of Christiania (now Oslo)  and is Norway’s largest and one of the deepest lakes in the country.  The family owned nothing.  They had no lands to grow their own crops.  They were simply impoverished land-less servants of the farmer.   The family predicament was one his father could not tolerate and when Peder was young, he abandoned the family and is never mentioned in his son’s dictated autobiography.  In 1812, when Peder was eight years old, because Norway and Denmark were in an alliance with France, their ports were blockaded by the British, as part of Britain’s war against Napoleon.  This prevented much needed corn from entering the country and this, along with a severe and early frost of 1812 which destroyed the Norwegian corn harvest, meant that for the next two years the country suffered a terrible famine.  This severe time was remembered well by Balke who wrote:

“….wretched times, when war and years of hardship oppressed people and it goes without saying that this suffering and national scourge affected the poor most severely.  My mother, who had to look after herself and two children- for I had a brother who was seven years older than me ……like so many others we had therefore to resort to substitutes which are less easy for humans to digest, and I and my brother went into the forest to remove bark from the trees, which was dried and ground and Mother baked bread with it.  It goes without saying that food of this kind resulted in disease such as dysentery etc…”

The Mountain Range 'Trolltindene' by Peder Balke (c.1845)
The Mountain Range ‘Trolltindene’ by Peder Balke (c.1845)

Being from such a peasant class there was no possibility of schooling for Balke but his mother taught him to read and write.  When he was old enough he would try to earn some money for the family by helping out on the neighbourhood farms, but pay was poor, and he would also go fishing to bring food to the table.

It was thought Peder’s maternal grandfather was an painter/decorator and that was the first influence on him.  Another relative, Anders Skraedderstuen, who had a nearby smallholding was also a painter and took on seventeen year old Peder as an apprentice for two years.  Peder was employed to paint but also learn the skills involved in fine interior decorations.  There was always work for him as the farm owners were becoming richer and building themselves large homes which they needed decorating.  Peder travelled extensively from farm to farm to carry out commissions.  One such farm was the Vestre Balke farm at Toten which was owned by Anders Balke.  The Balke family took to Peder and soon he was not just looked upon as a workman but as a son.  This close tie pleased Peder and it was at this time that he changed his surname to Balke.  Although now living with his “new family” he always remembered to go back and visit his mother and help her out financially.

Landscape with Mill and Rapids by Peder Balke (1840)
Landscape with Mill and Rapids by Peder Balke (1840)

In winter there were no commissions to be had so it was then that Balke travelled to Christiania to buy paints, stencils and the latest in ornaments ready for the following summer.  At this time there was no place in the capital where Balke could study art but he did manage to find rooms in a house owned by Ole Nielsen in Gudbrandsdalen.  Nielsen was a talented painter and over a period of seven months he taught Balke the fundamentals of drawing and painting.  Balke recalled the time later in his autobiographical notes:

“…From this kind man I received many tips hitherto unknown to me that had an appreciable effect on my later evolution in the profession of painter…”

Moonlight on the Coast at Steigen by Peder Balke (1842)
Moonlight on the Coast at Steigen by Peder Balke (1842)

Life and business were good for Peder Balke, so much so, he employed several apprentices but as in life itself there were always ups and downs and the “down” at this time was the threat of military service.  Balke did not want anything to do with this and tried all sorts of ploys to get himself out of fighting for his country.  His eventual get-out was by becoming a qualified craftsman and seeking citizenship in Christiania.  So, in 1826, aged twenty-two, Balke left Toten and moved to the capital and was accepted as a journeyman by the Lubeck-born painter and engraver, Heinrich August Grosch and studied to become a master painter of the town, thus acquiring citizenship and best of all, be exempt from military service providing he completed his two year course to the satisfaction of Grosch.   Balke tired of working for Grosch switched to working for Jens Funch.  In 1827, with the money he had saved, he enrolled in an elementary drawing class at the Royal School of Drawing and received tuition at the Kongelige Tegneskole from the former military officer and painter Captain Jacob Munch, who was pleased with Balke’s progress.  With his savings almost gone, Balke returned to Toten and asked his benefactor Anders Balke for some financial help.  Anders and two other farm owners decide to financially back Balke, in the form of a letter of guarantee for a sum of money which Balke needed to continue his studies and in return he promised to decorate their farm buildings.

Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl  (1827)
Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl (1827)

Balke returned to Christiania and with the letter of guarantee met with Professor Jens Rathke a renowned natural scientist and professor at the university who was well known for his generosity.  He agreed to take the letter of guarantee and lend Balke the funds he needed.   Balke was to late recall that he was never asked to repay the sum he had borrowed and commented on Rathke’s invaluable support:

“… For that as well as for all the other kindnesses that man bestowed on me I have always been and always will be grateful to him…”

Jens Rathke also persuaded Balke to take a trip around large parts of central Norway in order to study nature.  Balke first toured the Telemark area in the south east of the country an area which he later recalled had awakened his profound interest in Norway’s wonderful natural life, and the astonishing beauty it reveals in all directions.  Later he explored central Norway and the Gudbransdalen Valley.  He continually recorded his travels with a large number of sketches which he would later combine in his paintings.

Seascape by Peder Balke (c.1860)
Seascape by Peder Balke (c.1860)

In 1829, military service still loomed large as Balke had not managed to qualify as a painter-decorator within the prescribed two year period.  His only course of action to avoid military service was to try and enrol at an academy and study landscape painting.  Rathke advised Balke to apply to the Stockholm Academy and agreed to finance Balke’s application.  Balke studied for a short time under the Swedish landscape painter, Carl Johan Fahlcrantz.  Whilst in Stockholm Balke visited the summer residence of the country’s ruler Karl Johnan in Djurgärden where he viewed the king’s art collection and was much enamoured by a painting by the German landscape painter, Johan Christian Ezdorf.  Ezdorf, who was also a student of Fahlcrantz, had a great love for the Nordic scenery and often depicted it in his works of art.

Balke was enjoying life in Stockholm and in his memoirs he wrote:

“…I used the time to pay frequent visits to the city’s art academy and art galleries, as well as a number of private collections of paintings where I was made welcome, and I also executed some small paintings which I had the satisfaction of selling…”

In my next blog I will continue to look at the life and works of Peder Balke and examine the reasons why he gave up being a professional artist in favour of politics.

I can recommend an excellent book about the artist and his work entitled Paintings by Peder Balke, from which I derived most of my information about this Norwegian painter.

 

The Grindelwald Glacier by Thomas Fearnley

Grindelwald Glacier by Thomas Fearnley (1838)

Today I am concluding my look at the life of Thomas Fearnley and for those of you have just landed on this page,  my introduction to the Norwegian artist’s life was the subject for My Daily Art Display blog of November 24th.

The date is 1832 and that September, Fearnley, who along with his fellow artists, the Dane, William Bendz and the German painter Joseph Petzl, had just left the Bavarian Alpine village of Ramsau and were beginning their long and strenuous trek on foot over the Alps to Italy.  So why had this Norwegian artist and his friends set off on this gruelling journey?  Why did Fearnley spent most of his life wandering around Europe?   The answer probably lies in the fact that although the Norwegian landscape offered many beautiful vistas to paint, there were few commissions to be had from wealthy patrons in his native Norway.  Whereas in the art capitals of Europe such as Paris, London, Rome and Munich there were a large number of affluent patrons who would pay generous sums for landscape works.

Fearnley and his travelling companions headed for Rome but first stopped off in Venice in the late October of 1832.  The three travellers split up at this point as Fearnley was determined to carry on until he reached the Italian capital whereas Bendz wanted to stay in Venice.  As I told you in my last blog, William Bendz took ill in Venice but left the city and went to Vicenza where his health deteriorated rapidly and he died of typhoid, just ten days after he had parted from his friends.  Fearnley finally arrived in Rome in November 1832, just before his 30th birthday.  He settled down in the Italian capital, living amongst the Danish and German artistic community.  Fearnley made Rome his base for the next three years but was constantly setting off from there on his artistic trips.  In 1883, along with a Danish friend, he left the capital on a long walking tour of Sicily and on his way back to Rome, visited Naples, Sorrento and Capri.  This journey along the Amalfi coast had been carried out by his erstwhile mentor John Christian Dahl, ten years earlier.

Fearnley loved the practice of en plein air oil sketching and he followed earlier practitioners of this kind of art such as Claude-Joseph Vernet, Pierre-Henri Valenciennes and the Welsh artist Richard Wilson, all of whom had pioneered en plein air sketching whilst they were based in Rome.  The other aspect of this art, which Fearnley believed in, was to select views for painting that were “fresh”, even unorthodox rather than painting views which had been done so many times over by other landscape artists.  Another aspect of art which fascinated Fearnley was how various meteorological conditions affected the light and the view of the landscapes.  He strived for a true depiction of the skies and the cloud formations and was only too aware of the fast change in what he was looking at, due to varying changes in the weather conditions.   Having left the colder, duller and wetter climate of Northern Europe and Scandinavia he was now able to appreciate and take advantage of the warmer, sunnier climes of Italy which allowed him a greater opportunity to paint outdoors for lengthy periods of time.

In 1835, after his three year sojourn in Italy, Fearnley decided to move on.  He travelled north via Florence to Switzerland where he spent most of the summer studying the breathtaking Alpine scenery and especially the glaciers at Grindelwald, which would be depicted in his famous 1838 large studio oil painting entitled The Grindelwald Glacier, which is My Daily Art Display’s featured painting today.  From this Alpine area he once again moves north, crossing the Alps, heading for Paris, arriving in September of that year.  Whilst in Paris, he exhibits three of his works, including the “yet to be completed” Grindelwald Glacier painting.  During Fearnley’s stay in Rome he had met and befriended a number of wealthy English art lovers.  Many were rich aristocrats who were taking part in the Grand Tour.   It could have been this that made him decide to travel from Paris to London in the spring of 1836.  Whilst in the English capital, Fearnley took in the Royal Academy May Exhibition and at this exhibition he would have seen major works by the likes of Turner, Constable, David Wilkie and William Etty.  However the artist who most impressed Fearnley was the English landscape painter Augustus Wall Callcott.   This R.A. Exhibition was a special one as there were more than 1200 paintings being exhibited and it was the last one to be held at Somerset House.  Whilst in England Fearnley made a number of painting trips and in August 1837 he, along with his fellow artist friend, Charles West Cope, visited the Lake District.  He visited Derwentwater, Coniston and Patterdale, all the time recording the views in oil sketches.   In 1838 Fearnley became the founder member of the Etching Club, an artists’ society founded in London.  The club published illustrated editions of works by authors such as Oliver Goldsmith, Shakespeare, and Milton.  Other well known artists who became members of this club were the Pre-Raphaelite painters, William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais.

In 1838, Fearnley exhibited his now completed work The Grindelwald Glacier at the Royal Academy.    His wanderlust continued unabated and he leaves London in the summer for Germany.  He first visits Berlin and then on to Dresden where he once again meets up with his former mentor and teacher J C Dahl. He makes a brief stop-over in Switzerland before returning to his homeland, Norway, where he lives in the capital Christiania for the next two years.   Fearnley became a member of the Christiania Art Society.  On July 15th 1840,  he married Cecilia Catharine Andresen, the daughter of one of his patrons from previous years, the banker and Member of Parliament Nicolai Andresen.   In the autumn the couple went to Amsterdam, where they stayed for one year, and where their only child, a son Thomas, was born.  During their stay Fearnley becomes infected with typhus and on January 16th 1842 he died, aged just 39 years old.   He was buried in a Munich cemetery but 80 years later his son took the initiative to have his father’s remains brought back to Norway, and in 1922 the tomb was moved to Our Saviour’s Cemetery in Oslo.

Fearnley’s painting, which at the time was entitled The Upper Grindelwald Glacier, Canton Berne, Switzerland,  was started in 1836 and although not finished was shown at the Paris Salon that year.  It was two years later in 1838 that the painting appeared at the Royal Academy Exhibition, which was being held in its new home at the National Gallery, the R.A. having just moved from Somerset House that year.  This beautiful painting is dated 1838 which leads us to believe that the original work started in 1836 was re-worked in late 1838 whilst the artist was in London.  This large studio work derives from a number of oil sketches which Fearnley made in late 1835 whilst he was in the Grindelwald valley.  The spectacular view we are looking at is of the upper Grindelwald glacier, which lies on the northern side of the Bernese Alps.  In the middle ground we can just make out a lone shepherd silhouetted against the stunning white ice peaks of the glacier.  In the foreground of the work we see that Fearnley has put a lot of effort into depicting the flora, amongst which are dotted the shepherd’s flock.  Although my attached picture might not clearly show it, the artist’s signature “Fearnley” is on the rock in the right foreground, next to a fern ! Coincidence or a witty visual play on his name?