Date:  22 June 2011 - 18 September 2011
Category:  Exhibition

Norwegian and Swiss landscapes at National Gallery

Johan Christian Dahl
View of the Feigumfoss in Lysterfjord, 1848
Oil on canvas
42 x 57.7 cm
Collection of Asbjørn Lunde
© Photo courtesy of the owner
Johan Christian Dahl View of the Feigumfoss in Lysterfjord, 1848 Oil on canvas 42 x 57.7 cm Collection of Asbjørn Lunde © Photo courtesy of the owner

The new exhibition at National Gallery ‘Forests, Rocks, Torrents’ shows how the Norwegian and Swiss landscape paintings from the 1800s often resemble each other, with their snow-capped peaks, glacial valleys and dense forests.

Here Alexandre Calame’s Mountain Torrent before a Storm can be compared to Johan Christian Dahl’s The Lower Falls of the Labrofoss. In the years around 1800, the Norwegian and Swiss generated traditions of paintings that celebrated the landscape in its sublime and pastoral modes.

The Norwegian landscape tradition can be traced through three artists – Johan Christian Dahl, Thomas Fearnley and Peder Balke. Dahl loved Norway with the passion of a patriot. From the start of his career, he committed himself to depicting his nation, but in 1818 he moved to Dresden in Germany. Soon he became famous among Norwegians as their esteemed master in exile. A pilgrimage to Dresden to learn from Dahl became a necessity for any artist travelling from Norway to Italy. His greatest student was Thomas Fearnley. In 1835, Fearnley returned from a stay in Italy and spent time in Switzerland painting, and it is with him that the Norwegian and Swiss landscape traditions intersect. The innovative Peder Balke is re-emerging as a master of Norwegian landscape. His scenes of storms at sea and shipwrecks on rocky coasts are for the most part small black and white improvisations, thinly painted on board covered in smooth white ground.

From the beginning of 18th century artists in Switzerland were thinking about what it was to be Swiss. The first of these was Caspar Wolf, whose personal interests lay in the depiction of rocks, caves and water. However, the artist widely regarded as the best Swiss landscapist is Alexandre Calame. The theme of torrents was central to Calame’s work, including the largest (98 x 138 cm) in the exhibition, Mountain Torrent before a Storm. This painting depicts the longest river in Switzerland, the Aare, and was acquired by Prince Yusupov of Russia.

National Gallery’s ‘Forests, Rocks, Torrents’ draws on the collection of Asbjørn Lunde, an American who has formed the world’s leading private collection of Norwegian and Swiss landscape paintings, primarily of the 19th century. Most of the 51 paintings have never been shown in the UK before, and are rarely on public view. The works demonstrate the similarities of the Norwegian and Swiss traditions, but also the many differences that climate, character, national temperament and political regimes can impose on art.


Forests, Rocks, Torrents
National Gallery in the Sunley room
Trafalgar Square
London WC2N 5DN

Dates and opening hours
22 June – 18 September 2011
Daily 10am–6pm, Friday until 9pm
Admission Free


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