Published: August 7, 2007
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) is presenting Nineteenth Century masterworks of landscape painting from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland in a major exhibition. On view until September 2, “A Mirror of Nature: Nordic Landscape Painting, 1840‱910” features more than 100 paintings that include loans from collections of the Nordic National Galleries and showcases iconic works by important artists such as Edvard Munch, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Carl Larsson, August Strindberg, Harald Sohlberg, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Eero Järnefelt and Johan Christian Dahl.
MIA is the exhibition’s exclusive United States venue.
Featuring 107 paintings, “A Mirror of Nature” illuminates the distinctive Nordic contribution to the artistic representation of landscapes in the Nineteenth Century. The exhibition explores Nordic attitudes toward nature and the significance of landscape in Nordic culture and thinking. Landscape painting assumed particular importance around the middle of the Nineteenth Century, when landscape subjects became crucial symbols in Nordic countries’ search for national identity. At the same time, the landscape art of the region was open to wider European influences.
Works included in the exhibition are grouped thematically under five headings, with a thematic structure that also reflects the chronological development of landscape painting, from the heroic, romantic wildernesses of the 1840s to the dreamy, inward-looking mental landscapes of the turn of the Twentieth Century.
In Nordic Sublime, the Norwegian Peder Balke’s “The Jostedal Glacier” from the 1840s illustrates the first theme of this exhibition †the sublime dimension of landscape in its original sense as overwhelming, even terrifying beauty. In this panorama of the largest glacier in mainland Europe, framed by cloud-encircled mountain peaks, Balke (1804‸7) presents nature in all its majesty.
The Close to Nature section of the exhibition represents a movement away from the heroic, toward a depiction of landscape rooted in reality. An important first sign of a closer engagement between art and reality was artists’ growing tendency to produce painted studies directly from nature, preparatory to finishing their works in the studio. For example, Danish artist Christen Købke (1810‴8) painted most of his landscapes near Copenhagen, selecting subjects from the partially built-up suburbs. In “A View from Dosseringen near the Sortedam Lake Looking Towards Nørrebro,” 1838, Købke depicts a scene of two women watching a rowboat on a lake in the light of the setting summer sun.
The third theme of the exhibition, In the Open Air, is closely linked to the ascendance of plein air (outdoor) painting in Nordic countries in the 1880s. This phase was marked by revolts against the art academies and a mass exodus of young artists to Paris, because finishing a picture entirely outdoors spoke more to the eye than to the mind. Upon on returning home, Nordic painters who had trained in France found the silvery haze of the French tradition totally unsuited to a landscape defined by its clarity of light.
Carl Larsson’s large canvas “Open-Air Painter,” 1886, is an eloquent symbol of this break with tradition. In the painting, which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1886, Larsson (1853‱919) chose a prosaic, wintry back garden in Stockholm for the setting.
Evocative Landscape shows how Realism enjoyed a brief flowering from the mid-1880s as young Nordic artists who traveled abroad began to return. Some regarded the insistence on truth in painting as an unacceptable restriction of artistic freedom. The result was an almost complete breakthrough for mood-evoking, symbolic landscapes around the middle of the 1890s. The first clear examples of this approach were created by a group of Norwegian painters who gathered in the summer of 1886 at Fleskum farm, west of Oslo. Eilif Peterssen’s “Summer Night,” 1886, conveys an intensity of mood and sense of presence beyond what is visible.
Symbolism’s subjective perception of landscape took a number of artists beyond the bounds of the evocative landscape into the manner of the final section of the exhibition, Landscapes of the Mind. Several Nineteenth Century Nordic artists, including Lars Hertervig (1830‱902), in the grip of mental illness, had crossed over into the realm of the inner landscape.
Others, such as Edvard Munch (1863‱944), were eventually to refine the subjective dimension to such a degree that their landscapes became pictures of the mind, rather than impressions of the outer world. “Moonlight,” 1895, is a major work among Munch’s landscapes, and shows how far he could go in the direction of simplifying nature’s forms without losing their anchor in observed or experienced reality.
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