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Hans Gude, Norwegian Lord of the Land and Sea

Hans Gude - Norwegian Highlands in Sunrise - NG.M.04186 - National Museum of Art, Architecture and DesignNorwegian Highlands in Sunrise, 1854

Hans Fredrik Gude was born on March 13, 1825 in Oslo (formerly Christiania), Norway. A Romanticist from the Düsseldorf school of painting, a German Romanticist school in the mid-1800's that produced an impressive array of artists painting in a very detailed yet powerfully emotional way. The landscape as an artistic genre, although very common today, was often regarded as a lower genre and something not as "serious" as the more religious, historical or portrait genres that dominated the art world for centuries. German Romanticism changed that in a relatively short period of time and attracted artists from all over the world to study at the prestigious Düsseldorf Academy. Gude's career established him as an icon of Norwegian artists and became a master of the seascape and a distinguished art professor in his later years. He often collaborated with artist Adolph Tidemand, a highly skilled portrait and figure painter on his own right. Gude however, had an understanding of light and nature that few of his contemporaries achieved.

In Norwegian Highlands in Sunrise above, Gude takes the veduta and transforms it into a stunning jewel of Romanticism. This is truly breathtaking. Look at that warm morning light raking across the jagged rocks and wide expanse of sky. Despite some cracking in areas, particularly the clouds, the freshness and exhileration has been maintained and the view feels inherently modern despite being over a hundred and sixty years old. Gude composes the painting in three temperature layers of the sky, the mountains with the fog, and the warm greens and craggy rocks of the foreground. Up close, the brushwork is quite loose in the rock formations and the trees yet Gude clearly had a deep understanding of hues and color temperature. Look to the far right and the vegetation on the mountains is so subtle and becomes greener as our eye leads downward. Two hunters hide behind a rock with their rifles yet there appears to be no animal in sight except for the elk on one of the rock ledges.

Detail, Norwegian Highlands in Sunrise

In this closeup we see how Gude bathed the mountain peak in warm sunlight, then uses a subtle green to transition into the transparent, violet tones of the shadows.

Detail, Norwegian Highlands in Sunrise

Look at the dream-like grey-greens he inparts into this fog. Gude's magnificent brushwork is clear in this whispy fog formations. He seems to glaze over the edges to soften them, or drag his brush around while still maintaining shape, volumn and light/shadow depth. This is magical.

Hans Gude - View from the Oslofjord - NG.M.00898 - National Museum of Art, Architecture and DesignView from the Oslofjord, 1866

Here Gude seems to be channeling Lorrain while being faithful to his Impressionist roots. Squint and you will see why this is visual poetry. Those distant mountains are a dull orange. And yet the sun, amorphous and behind a veil of orange-yellow green clouds is painted as nothing more than muted white strokes with greenish white for the reflection in the water, surrounded by yellow-green waves.

Detail, View from the Oslofjord

Notice how he layers warm orange waves over the muted greens to create the subtle impression of waves lit by the sun. Despite appearing haphard Gude paints these buttery strokes with attention to line and alignment with darker greens underneath to create the sensation of choppy waves.

Detail, View from the Oslofjord

Green greys are enhanced in the shadows of these thick clouds. Yet in contrast to the highland painting, here the clouds are painted almost impasto with a hog bristle brush. That same grey green is used in even darker value for the backs of the sails. The cracking may be due to various reasons from paint application and mediums to how the painting was stored over time, but the majesty and brilliance of this view is a true treasure.

Hans Gude - Fresvikjekta - Sogn og Fjordane Kunstmuseum - SFKM-001376
Fresvikjekta, 1890
I love the vertical composition of this painting. Regrettably there is no higher resolution version I could find yet one can still see the color palette of warm against cool that gives this painting a sense of presence, like we can breathe that Scandanavian air. Look at the incredible reflections in the water that makes this come alive. Workers appear to be unloading a giant pile of 2x4 wood that blends so well with the warm red of the boat. I wish I could see that mountainside up close, but from this resolution we can still see much Gude has grown as a painter. Painting vegetation like that could be easily overdone or not enough but Gude creates a real sense of scale and depth here in atmospheric perspective...I don't think I could ever get tired of looking at this view. The sky itself is also a muted cool overcast glow that heightens the foreground. Constable would have respected this artist very much.

Hans Gude - Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast - NG.M.01487 - National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design
Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast, 1876
This painting has so much power and energy I am nearly at a loss for words. Gude has transcended the seascape and completely drawn us in. By making the figures and the boats distant and filling the composition with a massive, dramatic sky...clouds that seem to caught up in the fury of the wind and sun and trying to flee themselves. Incredible.

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
Look at how Gude paints the golden light behind these immense clouds. I would have never thought to use a muted green tone such as this to indicate works so well in contrast to the yellow glow. A muted blue would have been different and tricky to maintain without turning green anyway, so Gude decided to dive in and glaze this muted green atop of a blue underpainting, it seems. Look further up towards the top of the frame and the clouds take on an ochre-like green that is surreal yet enhances the fury of this moment. These are all warm tones, and it harmonizes the entire painting together.

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
Gude smoothes out the cloud formations toward the horizon line here but still maintaining the warm ochre hues. The yellow tones are more subdued and blended providing atmospheric perspective for the boat in the distance.

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
Gude's confidence in rendering human forms has also grown as seen by this closeup. The faces have just enough shadow form information to convey what they are doing without the need to over-explain  the narrative. Interesting how Gude makes their faces glow quite warmly so as not to stand out against the bright waters around them. These are very hearty fisherman. It sends a message that although these choppy waters seem fierce, for fishermen this is just another day's work to survive.

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
Gude depicts these waves of gold in a panoply of hues and tones. Bright yellows, muted greens, dark greens and even bright greens and oranges, all the while following the wave formations and crests...this is far more difficult to paint than it looks!

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
Note the deep bright greens below the boat as an accent color for the muted greens...this time since the shadow of the boat obscures the light we see only a scant flick of yellow highlights. Look at the reds and oranges off to the left.

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
Towards the lower right of the composition we see this seagull hovering low across the water. The greens here are pastel-like, and the yellows are scumbled quickly across as the rising crests create more pockets of shadow from the bright rays of the sun.

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
This close up could be a painting in itself. Here we can really feel the sense of movement in the water. Gude uses more ochre tones in the yellows here to indicate this area as being slightly out of the direct rays of the sun. I love that little splash on the bow of the boat, very carefully indicated to increase the sense of movement and speed...without it the boat would not convey the same level of urgency.

detail from Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast
Absolutely beautiful. The brushwork shimmers here. Gude indicates the rising crest with a bright green, then with a few flicks of dark green paint he solidifies the crest...he doesn't do this everywhere but only in crests that rise higher in shadow. For anyone painting the ocean and understanding the movement and waves of water, Gude is a first class master.

Gude was a true Romantic painter, much like a visual Beethoven in how he creates values and hues to full operatic effect in a way that is stunningly beautiful and moving. Much can be learned from studying his work.


  1. His paintings are so brilliant and lush. You can practically walk right into them. Breathtaking!


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