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December 23, 2007

Pic of the Day

Friedrich von Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards,

I have to confess a secret shame. Despite my very real admiration and attraction to the Impressionist school of landscape painting (including both the canonical French masters and the California school), I like Romantic landscape painting even better.

There, it feels good to get that off my chest.

I'm not saying I don’t have issues with Romanticism generally, although when push comes to shove most of my issues are actually with the way Modernism filed the serial numbers off of any number of Romantic notions and then misused most of them in the 20th century.

But I have no issues at all with Romantic landscape painting. It's big, it's vast, it's cosmic, it's Deistic or polytheistic, and heck, it's often (although not always) amazingly brightly colored. It can combine the Big Picture with reassuring little passages of detailed description. It often transparently glues together different moments of time, different sources of illumination and absurd disjunctions of scale. All this makes me ridiculously happy, although I can assure you that I've dutifully absorbed many lectures about how modern landscape painting is morally superior because it refuses to do any of these inherently fun things.

Anyway, it’s always a thrill to come across a new artist that I like, or at least an artist that is new to me. That’s why I’m posting this picture by an artist whose work I never laid eyes on before today, despite the fact that he died 120 years ago.

Feast your eyes on this painting by Peder Balke (1804-1887), a Norwegian painter who, according to Wikipedia,

…was known for portraying the nature of Norway in a positive manner and influenced a dramatic and romantic view of Norwegian landscape.

Balke, P., Stedtind i tåke, 1864

You can see more pictures by Balke and read more about him here.



posted by Friedrich at December 23, 2007


I hadn't heard of him either. The main way I stumble across these "peripheral" painters is via travel and visiting art museums. Alas, I've never been to Norway, which means the only two Norwegian painters that come to my mind are Munch and C. Kroyer.

Balke's work is powerful, and it amazes me that he is so unknown to art "sophisticates" here in the USA let alone us poor Blowhards.

Stedtind is odd-looking in that it seems like it's really two paintings in one -- the foreground landscape with those small, low, distant hills and what looks to be tiny David Carpar Friedrich figures looking into the distance. And then there's that huge mountain/glacial system/whatever looming over those small, distant hills I just noted. What is all this? How much of it is real and how much is invention or exaggeration? (I just Googled on the word and all that turned up picture-wise was the painting.)

Thank you for the heads-up on Balke.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 24, 2007 12:00 PM


I had all the same thoughts you did looking at the painting. It kind of makes you wonder what kind of "critique" our friend James Elkins would have given Balke at the Chicago Art Institute, doesn't it? I'd love to picture Balke, who seems to have been pretty articulate, standing there in his formal 19th century clothes amongst the faculty members. I wonder if the modern mandarins would have really been able to detect (or cope with) a worldview so radically different from their own, even one communicated as convincingly as Balke managed here.

Methinks this may be the root reason why 50 years later student artwork all looks the same: the sameness may result from the limitations in what the teachers find acceptable, not in the students' lack of talent.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 24, 2007 12:33 PM

What a find, FvB!

Yes, no doubt there are advantages to the romantic as opposed to the purely ocular/clinical approach to landscape painting. The elimination of a lot of extraneous detail. The addition of literary references to the purely visual. Just two of the advantages.

And paradoxically, the extremely limited palette that Balke applies in Stedtind and in the other work you linked to, can be a source of strength in a painting.

Going out on a limb, it's conceivable that he used only three colors - french ultramarine blue, yellow ochre and white - in Stedtind. Maybe some burnt sienna or burnt umber as well, but just a touch.

I don't know whether you're aware of this, but the famed Swedish playwright, August Strindberg, was a remarkable painter of landscapes in the romantic/expressionist mode. Worth taking a look at.

Posted by: ricpic on December 24, 2007 12:49 PM

That's one exciting painting!

Posted by: MIchael Blowhard on December 24, 2007 1:08 PM

In the "big glacial mountain thingee" in the background---is that a person, a nun or someone, looking out over the edge of the glacial thingee? Viewed from the back? It's like seeing pictures in clouds. You could talk about this painting for a long time, huh?

Posted by: annette on December 26, 2007 9:21 AM

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