Enfilade

Exhibition | Caspar Wolf and the Aesthetic Conquest of Nature

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 28, 2014

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Caspar Wolf, Panorama of the Grindelwald Valley with the Wetterhorn, Mettenberg, and Eiger, ca. 1774 (Aarau: Aargauer Kunsthaus, photo by Jörg Müller)

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From the Kunstumuseum Basel:

Caspar Wolf and the Aesthetic Conquest of Nature
Kunstmuseum Basel, 19 October 2014 — 1 February 2015

Curated by Bodo Brinkmann and Katharina Georgi

The Alps as magnificent spectacle of nature—a surprisingly recent opinion. It was only during the course of the 18th century that people began regarding jagged mountain ranges as ‘sublime’ and aesthetically pleasing. The Swiss landscape painter Caspar Wolf (1735–1783) was one of the first to conquer this largely undeveloped Alpine landscape on his extensive treks and made it available as subject matter for artistic treatment. In his galvanizing compositions, massive boulders, thundering mountain torrents, and bizarre glacier formations impede the viewer’s path. The human being, standing in awe, is reduced to a tiny figure before expansive panoramas. Wolf stands well apart from the idyllic Baroque landscapes with his radical formations and as one of the most significant precursors to European romanticism. But the same time, his work breathed the spirit of enlightenment. The exhibition includes 126 works by Caspar Wolf and his contemporaries as well as a selection of recent photographs taken at these respective locations in the Alps. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Kupferstichkabinett at the Kunstmuseum Basel will present highlights from its wealth of drawings and prints by Caspar Wolf.

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Caspar Wolf, The Staubbachfall in Winter, ca. 1775
(Bern: Kunstmuseum)

A fluke of history can be credited for Caspar Wolf ascent from impoverished childhood in Muri as carpenter’s son and moderately successful painter to artist of standing in European art history: the most important pioneer of Alpine painting and one of the most significant precursors to European Romanticism.

The fluke in question is Caspar Wolf’s encounter with the influential Bernese publisher Abraham Wagner (1734–1782). Wagner, one year his senior, had an ambitious project: to issue an encyclopedic publication of the Swiss Alpine landscape complete with illustrations of the highest artistic standard; and more to the point, these illustrations would be worked immediately from nature. The landscape that Wagner had in mind as motif was the rarely travelled and difficult to reach high Alpine region. The idea was to offer viewers a new conception of the Alpine landscape in images of previously unparalleled precision and magnificence. To author the written sections of this publication, Wagner engaged the Bernese priest and eminent natural philosopher Jacob Samuel Wyttenbach. Wolf was to accompany the two men on their extensive treks through the Alpine mountains. His task was to document and depict in paintings these unique encounters with nature.

What resulted was a comprehensive picture cycle of the Swiss Alps. Working in his studio from the nature studies completed on location, Wolf created some 200 paintings of imposing quality that bring together spontaneous observations and highly artistic formulations. Wolf invents astute painterly formulations to depict mountain ranges and glaciers, waterfalls and caves, bridges and raging torrents, lakes and high plateaus, sometimes rendering these in expansive panorama views, sometimes in close, claustrophobic compositions. His paintings include many prominent natural monuments, some no longer existent due to the environmental destruction of recent centuries: hence, the famous ‘séracs’ (pinnacles of glacier ice) of the Lower Grindelwald Glacier, evident in two exceptionally powerful paintings by Wolf, have long since melted, for instance.

Wolf’s paintings can neither be grouped with the vedute, a type painting popular at the time, nor can they be described as explicitly documentary images. Instead, they speak to a more fundamental subject matter: they consider the relationship between the mountain as rational concept and the mountain as sensual perception.

But what was the origin for the remarkable aesthetic assurance with which the artist entered the virginal territory of Alpine painting? Wolf’s intense engagement with French painting while in Paris in 1770/71 proved to be of central importance. This is vividly demonstrated in the exhibition with works by François Boucher, Claude-Joseph Vernet, Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg the Younger, and Hubert Robert. Surprisingly, Wolf profits greatly from his engagement with contemporary marine paintings and their depictions of dramatic storms at sea and shipwrecks.

The exhibition includes 126 works by Caspar Wolf and his contemporaries as well as a selection of recent photographs taken at these respective locations in the Alps. In conjunction with this exhibition, the Kupferstichkabinett at the Kunstmuseum Basel will present highlights from its wealth of drawings and prints by Caspar Wolf.

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The catalogue is available in German and English:

Caspar Wolf und die ästhetische Eroberung der Natur (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-3775738323 (German) / ISBN: 978-3775738330 (English), €58.

00003833The notion of the Alps as a magnificent natural spec­tacle is surprisingly recent. It was not until the eigh­teenth century that its craggy mountain ridges began to be seen as ‘sublime’ and beautiful. The Swiss landscape painter Caspar Wolf (1735–1783) was one of the first to discover the then largely unexplored world of the Alps as a subject of art through his ex­tended forays into the mountains. Trained in south­ern Germany and Paris, Wolf was commissioned to produce a comprehensive series on the Swiss Alps, which he completed between 1773 and 1779. Working in his studio, the artist created some 180 imposing paintings from nature studies done outdoors. The publication demonstrates how he conveyed what he had seen according to his aesthetic criteria. In his dra­matic compositions, paths are blocked by immense boulders, roaring streams of water, and glaciers, or the
view opens up to reveal giant panoramas, which are
observed by tiny, awestruck human figures.

Call for Papers | Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours (1752–1809)

Posted in Calls for Papers by Editor on October 28, 2014

As noted at H-ArtHist:

Saint-Ours Aujourd’hui
Geneva, 19–21 November 2015

Proposals due by 30 November 2014

À l’occasion de l’exposition rétrospective consacrée à Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours (1752–1809), le Musée d’art et d’histoire (MAH) et le Département d’histoire de l’art de l’Université de Genève lui consacreront un colloque international, à Genève, du 19 au 21 novembre 2015. Ce colloque souhaiterait faire le point de la recherche, passée et présente, sur l’un des peintres les plus importants de l’histoire des arts à Genève.

Invitant des spécialistes confirmés mais aussi de jeunes chercheurs, ce colloque offrira aussi l’occasion de réinterroger les relations que les peintres genevois ont établies avec les autres artistes européens et la place des arts à Genève à la fin du XVIIIe siècle et au début du XIXe siècle.

Les chercheur-e-s intéressé-e-s sont prié-e-s de transmettre
•    le titre envisagé et un résumé de 300 mots de leur conférence
•    un bref curriculum-vitae, agrémenté d’une éventuelle liste de publications

à Jan Blanc jan.blanc@unige.ch, avant le 30 novembre 2014

An extended Call for Papers with bibliography is available at Le Blog de L’ApAhAu.