Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany

The Courtauld Gallery, London, 30 January to 27 April 2014
The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, 30 May to 7 September 2014

Organised as a collaboration between The Courtauld Gallery and The Morgan Library and Museum in New York, this exhibition explores aspects of Romantic landscape drawing in Britain and Germany from its origins in the 1760s to its final flowering in the 1840s. Bringing together twenty-six major drawings, watercolours and oil sketches from both collections by artists such as J.M.W. Turner, Samuel Palmer, Caspar David Friedrich and Karl Friedrich Lessing, it draws upon the complementary strengths of both collections: the Morgan’s exceptional group of German drawings and The Courtauld Gallery’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. Together, these drawings exemplify Friedrich’s understanding of Romantic landscape draughtsmanship as ‘a dialogue with Nature’.

Friedrich claimed that ‘the artist should not only paint what he sees before him, but also what he sees in himself’. His words encapsulate two central elements of the Romantic conception of landscape: close observation of the natural world and the importance of the imagination. The display opens with a selection of drawings made in the late 18th century. The legacy of Claude Lorrain’s ideal vision is visible in Jakob Philipp Hackert’s magisterial view of ruins at Tivoli, near Rome, while cloud and tree studies by John Constable and Johann Georg 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

Moonlit Landscape (below) and

The Jacobikirche as a Ruin

and Samuel Palmer’s

Oak Tree and Beech, Lullingstone Park.

These 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 final grouping shows Romantic landscapes at their most expansive and painterly, featuring Joseph MW Turner’s

St Goarshausen and Katz Castle,

one of fifty watercolours inspired by his first visit to Germany in 1817, and Friedrich’s subtle wash drawing of a coastal meadow on the remote Baltic island of Rügen. The exhibition closes with three small-scale drawings revealing a more introspective and intimate facet of the Romantic approach to landscape:

Theodor Rehbenitz’s fantastical medievalising scene,

Palmer’s meditative Haunted Stream (below)and, lastly, Turner’s Cologne made as an illustration for The Life and Works of Lord Byron (1833), which underscores important links between literature and the visual arts.

A Dialogue with Nature
is the first exhibition to be organised jointly by The Courtauld’s IMAF Centre for Drawings and The Morgan Library and Museum’s Drawings Institute. The accompanying publication will feature an essay by Matthew Hargraves, Yale Center for British Art, and Morgan-Courtauld Fellow, and individual catalogue entries for each work by Rachel Sloan, The Courtauld Gallery.

John Robert Cozens (1752-1797)
A ruined fort near Salerno, c. 1782
Watercolour on paper, 251 x 368 cm
The Courtauld Gallery

Carl Philipp Fohr (1795-1818)
The Ruins of Hohenbaden, 1814-15
Watercolour on paper, 195 x 221 mm
The Morgan Library and Museum

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Moonlit landscape, c. 1808
Watercolour on paper, 232 x 365 mm
The Morgan Library and Museum

Samuel Palmer (1805-1881)
The Haunted Stream, c. 1826
Brush and brown ink and brown ink wash on paper
92 x 123 mm
The Morgan Library and Museum

Karl Friedrich Lessing (1808-1880)
Landscape with a cemetery and a church, 1837
Pen and ink on paper, 291 x 447 mm
The Morgan Library and Museum

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
On Lake Lucerne, looking towards Fluelen, 1841 (?)
Watercolour on paper, 223 x 283 mm
The Courtauld Gallery