oil on canvas
Fortegnelse over mine Arbeider, J.C. Dahl, January 1817, mentioned
Nyeste Skilderi af Kjøbenhavn, Copenhagen, no. 27, 4 April 1817
Peder Hjort, Kritiske Bidrag til nyere dansk Tœnkemaade og Dannelses Historie, Copenhagen, 1854, pp. 103f
Carl Reitzel, Fortegnelse over Danske Kunstneres Arbeider paa de ved det Kgl. Akademi for de Skjönne Kunster i Aarene 1807-1882 afholdte Charlottenborg-Udstillinger, Copenhagen, 1883, p. 105
Andreas Aubert, Maleren Johan Christian Dahl, Kristiania, 1920, pp. 34 and 325
Johan H. Langaard, J.C.Dahl's Verk, Oslo, 1937, no. 74
Leif Østby, 'J.C. Dahls Danske Læreår', in Kunstmuseets Årsskrift, 1974, pp. 31 and 38f, illustrated
Marie Lødrup Bang, Johan Christian Dahl 1788-1857: Life and Works, Oslo, 1987, vol. II, p. 61, no. 97, catalogued and discussed (with the incorrect measurements); vol. III, pl. 97, illustrated
Painted in 1816 while studying at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, the present work is an impressive example of the different influences that formed Dahl's style in his early years as a painter, and which would guide him for the rest of his life. As Marie Lødrup Bang explains, Dahl's work whilst in Copenhagen fell into three groups - his copies from Old Masters, his imaginary landscapes in Southern or Northern character and his prospects of the Danish countryside (Bang, vol. I, p. 28, discussed).
Dahl's excursions into the Danish countryside around Copenhagen perfected his study of nature. The present work appears to have been painted in Engelholm, an estate south of Copenhagen. In a letter dated 29 October 1816 he writes from there to C.J. Thomsen in Copenhagen (the first owner of the painting) about the large painting that he has embarked on: 'the sky and the background are finished as well as the big rock in the middle ground; this has turned out very well...' A letter of 20 November mentions that he has about another fortnight's work left on the painting: 'I cannot remember having worked so long on any painting, but then I have never done such a work at this time of year. The days are dark and cold...' (Bang, vol. II, p. 61, discussed).
It was clearly not the Danish topography but his study of the Old Masters that provided the compositional structure of the present work. For this he was greatly influenced by the work of Claude Lorrain, whose work he held in high regard and which was known to him through the publication of the artist's Liber Veritatis. Dahl also familiarised himself with Dutch painting at the important collections in Copenhagen, chiefly the Royal Collections including the Kunstkameret and the collections of Consul West and Conferentzraad Moltke. The Kunstkammeret had been open since 1771 for young artists who wanted to copy its paintings. Among the more important copies Dahl made in the Copenghagen collections were two landscapes from Jacob Ruisdael and two from Jan Booth. (Bang, vol. I, p. 29, discussed). One of the Ruisdaels in particular that was then in the Moltke collection (fig. 1), bears a striking resemblance to the composition of the present work.
Dahl's Nordic roots, however, were deep seated, and it was his striving to establish a Nordic landscape tradition that above all coloured his aesthetic. In the present work this feature is most clearly apparent in the inclusion of the wood-cutters cottage to the left of the foreground tree. The use of such a motif reflects the mentoring that he received in his early years in Bergen from Lyder Sagen who belonged to a patriotic group of humanists. It was Sagen who both raised the money to pay for Dahl to attend the Academy at Copenhagen and it was Sagen who instilled into Dahl his patriotism and his interest in cultural heritage. In turn it was Sagen who gave Dahl letters of introduction to the circles in Copenhagen which gravitated around the renowned archaeologist C.J. Thomsen, a specialist in northern pre-history, and the romantic poet Adam Oehlenschläger, known for his poems on northern history and mythology. (Bang, vol. I, p. 24, discussed).
Fig. 1, Johann Christian Dahl, Copy of a Landscape by Jacob Ruisdael, 1813, Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo .... DIGI ref: 673D06101
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