Enfilade

Exhibition | Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 9, 2020

Jean Honoré Fragonard, Mountain Landscape at Sunset, ca. 1765, oil on paper, 8 × 13 inches
(Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Fund, 1997.22.1)

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From the press release (6 December 2019) for the exhibition:

True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 2 February — 3 May 2020
Fondation Custodia, Paris, 13 June — 13 September 2020
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 6 October — 31 January 2021

Curated by Mary Morton, Ger Luijten, and Jane Munro

An integral part of art education in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, painting en plein air (‘in the open air’) was a core practice for artists in Europe. Intrepid painters—developing their abilities to quickly capturing effects of light and atmosphere—made sometimes arduous journeys to study landscapes at breathtaking sites, ranging from the Baltic coast and Swiss Alps to the streets of Paris and ruins of Rome. True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870 presents some 100 oil sketches made outdoors across Europe by artists such as Carl Blechen, Jules Coignet, André Giroux, Anton Sminck Pitloo, Carl Frederik Sørensen, and Joseph Mallord William Turner. On view in the West Building of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from February 2 through May 3, 2020, the exhibition presents dozens of recently discovered studies and explores issues of attribution, chronology, and technique.

“The Gallery is fortunate to have one of the finest public collections of landscape sketches by 18th- and 19th-century European painters, largely due to acquisitions made by the late Philip Conisbee during his time as the Gallery’s senior curator of European paintings from 1993 to 2008,” said Kaywin Feldman, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. “True to Nature builds on recent scholarship as well as the discovery of paintings that have come to light since the 1996 exhibition organized by Conisbee, In the Light of Italy: Corot and Early Open-Air Painting. That exhibition sparked curatorial and collector interest in this genre, and True to Nature continues to expand our understanding of this relatively unstudied, yet central, aspect of European art history. The Gallery is grateful to work with the Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, and the Fitzwilliam Museum to bring together highlights from the best collections of European landscape sketches from this period.”

True to Nature begins as European artists would have in the late 18th and early 19th century—in Rome. The study of ancient sculpture and architecture, as well as of Renaissance and baroque art, was already a key part of an artist’s education, but Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes’s influential treatise on landscape painting, published in 1800, went further to recommended that young artists develop their skills by painting oil sketches out of doors. Valenciennes advised exploring the Roman countryside, as he had in Study of Clouds over the Roman Campagna (c. 1782/1785). This section includes examples by a range of European artists who followed his advice, such as Michel Dumas, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, and Johan Thomas Lundbye. Also included is The Island and Bridge of San Bartolomeo, Rome (1825/1828) by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Corot was a key figure in 19th-century landscape painting, bringing the practice of open-air painting back to France and inspiring a younger generation of impressionist painters.

Other sections focus on both natural and man-made features that proved challenging to painters, such as waterfalls, trees, skies, coastlines, and rooftops. Examples include rare studies by well-known artists such as John Constable’s Sky Study with a Shaft of Sunlight (c. 1822, Fitzwilliam Museum), Jean Honoré Fragonard’s Mountain Landscape at Sunset (c. 1765), and Odilon Redon’s Village on the Coast of Brittany (1840–1916, Fondation Custodia) as well as sketches by lesser-known painters like Louise-Joséphine Sarazin del Belmont, one of the few known women artists active during this period. True to Nature illustrates how pervasive plein-air painting became across Europe with examples by many Belgian, Danish, Dutch, German, Swiss, and Swedish artists who studied in Italy before returning home to paint their native surroundings. Sketches by Carl Blechen include an example from his time in Italy, View of the Colosseum in Rome (1829, Fondation Custodia), as well as a study made at home in Germany, View of the Baltic Coast (1798-1840), Fondation Custodia).

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, the Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The exhibition is curated by Mary Morton, curator and head of the department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Ger Luijten, director, Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris; and Jane Munro, keeper of paintings, drawings and prints, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Ger Luijten, Mary Morton, and Jane Munro, eds., with additional contributions by Michael Clarke, Ann Hoenigswald, and Anna Ottani Cavina, True to Nature: Open-Air Painting in Europe, 1780–1870 (London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2020), 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1911300786, £45 / $55.

 

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