Courtauld Gallery

A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany

A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany

Paperback, 210 x 210 mm, 84 pages, 40 colour illustrations
PRICE: £14.95
ISBN: 978 1 907372 66 7

 

Essay by Matthew Hargraves, Yale Centre for British Art
Catalogue by Rachel Sloan, The Courtauld Gallery

"The artist should not only paint what he sees before him," claimed Caspar David Friedrich, "but also what he sees in himself." He should have "a dialogue with Nature". Friedrich's words encapsulate two central elements of the Romantic conception of landscape: close observation of the natural world and the importance of the imagination.

Exploring aspcts of Romantic landscape drawing in Britain and Germany from its origins in the 1760s to its final flowering in the 1840s, this exhibition catalogue considers 26 major drawings, watercolours and oil sketches from The Courtauld Gallery, London, and the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, by artists such as J.M.W. Turner, Samuel Palmer, Caspar David Friedrich and Karl Friedrich Lessing. It draws upon the complimentary strengths of both collections: the Morgan's exceptional group of German drawings and The Courtauld's wide-ranging holdings of British works. A Dialogue with Nature offers the opportunity to consider points of commonality as well as divergence between two distinctive schools.

The legacy of Claude Lorrain's idealizing vision is visible in Jakob Hakcert's magisteral view of ruins at Tivoli, near Rome, as well as in a more intimate but purely imaginary rural scene by Thomas Gainsborough, while cloud and tree studies by John Constable and Johann Goerg von Dillis demonstrate the importance of drawing from life and the observation of natural phenomena.

The important visionary strand of Romanticism is brought to the fore in a group of works centred on Friedrich's evocative Moonlit Landscape and Samuel Palmer's Oak Tree and Beech, Lullingstone Park. Both are exemplary of their creators' intensely spiritual vision of nature as well as their strikingly different techniques, Friedrich's painstakingly fine detail contrasting with the dynamic freedom of Palmer's penwork.

The most expansive and painterly works include Turner's St Goarshausen and Katz Castle, the luminious simplicity of Francis Towne's watercolour view of a wooded valley in Wales and Friedrich's subtle wash drawing of a coastal meadow on the remote Baltic island of Rügen. Three small-scale drawings reveal a more introspective and intimate facet of the Romantic approach to Landscape: Theodor Rehbenitz's fantastical medievalizing scene, Palmer's meditative Haunted Stream and lastly, Turner's Cologne, made as an illustration for The Life and Works of Lord Byron (1833).

Accompanying an exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery, London, 30 January – 27 April 2014, and at the Morgan Library and Museum, New York, 30 May – 7 September 2014.

"Its central narrative about strong-minded artists overthrowing academic convention and learning to draw and paint spontaneously from nature, under an open sky, is the story of the emergence of a modern sensibility." The Telegraph, 3 February 2014

 


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