| JOHAN CHRISTIAN DAHL (1788 - 1857)
Johan Christian Claussen Dahl was born in Bergen, often known as J. C. Dahl or I. C. Dahl, was a artist who is considered the first great romantic painter in Norway, the founder of the "golden age" of Norwegian painting, and one of the great European artists of all time.
He is often described as "the father of Norwegian landscape painting" and is regarded as the first Norwegian Painter ever to reach a level of artistic accomplishment comparable to that attained by the greatest European artists of his day. He was also the first acquire genuine fame and cultural renown abroad.
As one critic has put it, J.C. Dahl occupies a central position in Norwegian artistic life of the first half of the 19th century. Although Dahl spent much of his life outside of Norway, his love for his country is clear in the motifs he chose for his paintings and in his extraordinary efforts on behalf of Norwegian culture generally. Indeed, if one sets aside his own monumental artistic creations, his other activities on behalf of art, history, and culture would still have guaranteed him a place at the very heart of the artistic and cultural history of Norway.
He was, for example, a key figure in the founding of the Norwegian National Gallery and of several other major art institutions in Norway, as well as in the preservation of Norwegian stave churches and the restoration of the Nidaros Cathedral and Håkonshallen.
Dahl came from a very simple background – his father was a modest fisherman in Bergen, and he would later look back at his youth with bitterness. he regretted that he never had a "real teacher" in his childhood and, for all his spectacular success, he believed that if he had been more fortunate in his birth, he would have achieved even more than he had. As Dahl wrote in 1828 to the director of the Dresden academy, he found the area around Dresden useful for nature studies, but the "real thing" was always missing; that was something he could only find in his mountainous homeland. He viewed himself as a “more Nordic painter” with a "love for seacoasts, mountains, waterfalls, sailboats, and pictures of the sea in daylight and moonlight."
He longed to return to Norway, but not until 1826 was he able to make a journey home. He made subsequent trips to Norway in 1834, 1839, 1844, and 1850, mostly exploring and painting the mountains, leading to the monumental works Fortundalen (1836) and Stalheim (1842). During his visits to Norway he received "an enthusiastic welcome as a painter of renown." A critic notes Dahl´s late stylistic changes: "In his late Fjord at Sunset (1850), based on studies made earlier, free and adventurous brush strokes represent the cloud-swept sky and broken surface of the water. Here he has moved far away from the purity and intensity of Friedrich´s oeuvre."
After several years in Denmark, Italy and Germany. In Dresden, as in Copenhagen, Dahl traveled around the area to draw subjects that could be of use to him in larger works that would be painted later in his atelier. He wrote to Prince Christian Frederik in 1818 that "most of all I am representing nature in all its freedom and wildness." Dahl found enough material in the Dresden area to supply motifs for his paintings, but he continued to paint imaginary landscapes with forests, mountains, and waterfalls. One such painting, completed in 1819, entitled "Norsk fjellandskap med elv" (Mountainous Norwegian landscape with river), garnered great attention among younger artists who considered the striking natural quality of the painting a breath of fresh air on Dresden´s stagnant art scene. Another monumental waterfall painting, completed the next year, was lavished with praised by the critic for Kunstblatt who said that Dahl was greater than Jacob van Ruisdael. Dahl was accepted into the Dresden academy in 1820.
Avaldsnes Church (1820)
Dahl went to Rome in February 1821. He spent a great deal of time visiting museums, meeting other artists, and painting pictures to sell. In addition to painting sights in Rome and pictures of the Gulf of Naples, he painted landscapes inspired by the mountains of Norway. Dahl said that not until he was in Rome did he truly appreciate Norwegian nature. As a member of the academy, Dahl always gave of his time to young artists who sought him out. In 1824 he and Friedrich were named "extraordinary professors" who had no chair but who received a regular salary. In 1823 Dahl moved in with Friedrich, so that many of his students, such as Knud Baade, Peder Balke, and Thomas Fearnley, were equally influenced by both artists.
In 1827 Emilie Dahl died in childbirth while having their fourth child, and two years later two of the older children died of scarlet fever. In January 1830 Dahl married his student Amalie von Bassewitz, but she, too, died in childbirth in December of that same year. Dahl was crushed, and many months passed before he was able to paint again. Some years later this youngest child also died, leaving Dahl with two surviving children, Caroline and Siegwald. Copenhagen Harbour by Moonlight, 1846 Dahl´s trip to Norway in 1850 would be his last. He was aging and weak, but continued to paint landscapes in the mountains.
Shipwreck on the Coast of Norway (1920)
This last journey to his homeland resulted in several magnificent works, including Måbødalen, Fra Stugunøset, and Hjelle i Valdres. Dahl was also among the founding fathers of the Nasjonalgalleriet (National Gallery) of Norway, now the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, and donated his own art collection to the institution. Together with Johan Sebastian Welhaven, Frederik Stang and Henrik Heftye, he also founded the Art Society in Oslo (Oslo Kunstforening).
As Dahl wrote in 1828 to the director of the Dresden academy, he found the area around Dresden useful for nature studies, but the “real thing” was always missing; that was something he could only find in his mountainous homeland. He viewed himself as a "more Nordic painter" with a "love for seacoasts, mountains, waterfalls, sailboats, and pictures of the sea in daylight and moonlight." He longed to return to Norway, but not until 1826 was he able to make a journey home.
Dahl had both the Orders of Vasa and St. Olav bestowed on him by the King of Norway and Sweden. He also received the Order of Dannebrog from Denmark. The three honors testify to his extraordinary cultural impact throughout Scandinavia.
Many of his works may be seen in Dresden, notably a large picture titled Norway and Storm at Sea. The Bergen Kunstmuseum in Bergen, Norway, contains several of his more prominent works, including Måbødalen (1851), Stedje i Sogn (1836), Hjelle i Valdres (1850), Lysekloster (1827) and Bjerk i storm (1849). The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, The National Gallery, Oslo has a large collection of his works, including Vinter ved Sognefjorden (1827), Castellammare (1828), Skibbrudd ved den norske kyst (1832), Hellefoss (1838), Stalheim (1842), Fortundalen (1842) and Stugunøset på Filefjell (1851).