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Indepth Arts News:

"Balti Light"
1999-10-15 until 2000-01-02
National Gallery of Canada
Ottawa, ON, CA Canada

This major exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Canada, the Hamburger Kunsthalle and Thorvaldsens Museum, Copenhagen, features some 100 paintings by early 19th century Danish and German artists specializing in landscape painting whose activity centred in Copenhagen, Hamburg, Berlin and Dresden. These are predominantly topographical landscapes devoid of human figure, but occasionally penetrated by a lone artist contemplating his surroundings. The scale of works varies between the oil sketch entirely executed on the spot, whether a view or concentrated study of foliage or clouds, and bigger canvases executed in the studio on the basis of these, or before an open window. Also included are large panoramic views, including the cityscapes seen from rooftops that were particularly prevalent in Berlin in the effort to record the remarkable expansion of neoclassical architecture in that city.

The contribution of artists such as Casper David Friedrich, C.W. Eckersberg, Carl Blechen, Friedrich Wasmann and Johan Christian Dahl, was to be found in their new and original concept of nature, based on observation of what they saw, rather than on formal concepts and idealized compositions. Some adopted painting out of doors on formative trips to Italy, while others simply gained familiarity with nature, training their powers of observation by taking notes on the atmospheric conditions, or making drawings of different types of trees and rock formations on walking tours (along the shores or in the mountainous regions) on their home soil. Whatever their immediate stimulus, these artists introduced a new pictorial logic based on a realistic, seemingly uncomposed view of nature.

The exhibition will illustrate that German and Danish artists were considerable innovators in the field of landscape painting. The Royal Danish Academy championed a direct approach to nature when other academies of the day still did not grant landscape a high position on the roster of artistic disciplines. Returning to Copenhagen after a period of study in Rome where the practise of plein air painting was a longstanding tradition among generations of foreign artists, Eckersberg had introduced this method of painting in the open into the curriculum at the Danish Academy. Even some years prior to this, Friedrich and several other artists from Swedish Pomerania had themselves studied there before settling in Dresden where they spoke of it with fond memories, reinforced by the arrival of Dahl. This and the fact that Danish borders stretched south to Hamburg and north to include Norway in the first half of the 19th century, meant that many German speaking as well as other students were attracted to Copenhagen and its pioneering outlook. Scholarships to Italy were still aspired for. Thus, when travelling south, students often stopped in Dresden or Munich spreading word of their modern outlook and gaining an international reputation for the Danish Academy.

It is the first time many of these artists are represented in Canada although their aspirations were similar to those of Canadian artists of a later generation and many of their compatriots were among early settlers in this country. The National Gallery of Canada is the unique Canadian venue for this exhibition.

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