Skip to main content

Frits Thaulow, Norwegian Impressionist for the Seasons

Ponte Pietra, Verona 1894

Frits Thaulow was born on October 20 1847 in Oslo (formerly Christiania), Norway. A member of the Skagen Painters, Thaulow studied in Copenhagen and under Hans Gude. Thaulow painted in Skagen for a few years before returning to Norway and finally moving to northern France where he found inspiration in the idyllic views there where he would explore tonalist Impressionism and a vibrant palette. Thaulow is one of the most underrated of Impressionist painters in his distinctive sense of color and light in his water reflections. He is more naturalist than Impressionist. His paintings immerse us into his world.

In Ponte Pietra, Verona above Thaulow contrasts a rustic, ancient Roman bridge made of brick and travertine with the beautiful green tones in the water. This is a view from the right which is not often depicted in photos even today, and yet this has a freshness that makes us feel like we are standing at the very spot. Thaulow's muted brushwork in the water conveys the movement of the Adige River with a faint mottled reflection of the bridge to help convey the current. I love how Thaulow conveys the texture and age of the bridge with dark, scumbled marks and deep shadows under the arches, and yet suggesting the more modern homes on the other side.

Notice the transparent violet shadow he adds that gives a sense of depth to the painting and reinforces the direction of sunlight.

Thaulow, Paysage
Landscape. 1903

Thaulow conveys a serene moment without any artifice or cliche. Thick, opaque highlights of scumbled greys create reflections of water so natural it seems palpable. The composition is neatly divided in half although in perspective, and yet it contrasts so well the rugged shoreline with this pristine river. The warm leaves of the tree infer autumn and although this is not a high-res image, we can see how Thaulow uses a fun impasto on these leaves to convey their texture contrasting with the distant lining the opposite bank in the distance. I have never seen an artist pay such close attention to reflections as Thaulow, and here these trees vibrate gently in the swaying current of the water. There is such immediacy in this study, and so much we can learn about en plein air painting from this. Magic.

Frits Thaulow-La Dordogne
The river La Dordogne in France, 1903

This is a view from the Southwestern region of France known for lush verdant landscapes. Once again, Thaulow hones in on the magic quality of the river. He takes the faint last glow of an early evening sky and reflects it in the water from an unusually high point of view for a landscape, maybe looking down from a small hill or higher bank. The sky is a dull yellow grey that works flawlessly and Thaulow indicates clouds with a few dark grey strokes. He uses very cool greys on the waves of the water in the foreground, nearly blue...look at the reflection of the tree in the right hand side of the composition. Thaulow reminds us that the view need not be grandiose or intricately composed—it is the emotion, the mood, the feeling...the moment conveyed is all that matters.

Frits Thaulow - En gate i måneskinn - A street in moonlight
A Streetlight in Moonlight, 1895 (pastel)

This eerie piece somehow seems to be channeling Van Gogh. Thaulow does this one in pastel,which lends to its mysterious textures. More like something out of a dream than a painting, here Thaulow lures us into a nocturnal fantasy of surreal familiarity. That sky feels like nighttime. And the soft grey shadows of the entrance to the church on the left contrasts with the craggy trees off to the right. There is minimal, if any blending at all here and yet in spite of the rough textures one forgets that they are looking at a painting. Nocturnes are an artform unto themselves.

Frits Thaulow - A Château in Normandy
A Château in Normandy, ca.1895

Love the composition and the way the river leads our eye gently to the chateau in the distance. Curiously, Thaulow reverses the atmospheric color perspective by making the chateau warm and the water cool and yet it works brilliantly. This is impressionist painting yet Thaulow takes deliberate care in the reflections and undulations of the water...I really believe if Monet knew Thaulow he would have greatly admired him. Look at the detail below:

Impressionism is not quick brushstrokes. Look at how Thaulow thins the paint with solvent to retain transparency while keeping his highlights vibrant and crisp. He is a painter's painter who definitely was aware of each particular stroke, each value relationship and temperature, standing both up close and far back from his work to judge his accuracy. Note how the snow off to the right is a dull, blue grey value that would probably look wrong mixed on a palette yet it looks exactly like snow. This kind of painting is alive and invigorating.

Thaulow is a highly underrated Impressionist Master that inspires one to brave the elements and tackle the land around us. The camera in all of its seeming perfection and mechanical reproduction cannot ever produce work like this, fresh and personal, to say the least of AI and its digital artistic terrorism. Landscape painting requires true observation and a love of and respect for nature that can only be achieved on location.


Popular posts from this blog

More Old Master Drawings

There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body. Robert Henri Charles Louis Müller , A Standing Female Nude Leaning Against an Arch, ca.1864 Once again I decided to talk about some Old Master drawings and delve into the thinking behind how these drawings may have been created and the knowledge of the artist. In the above drawing by Müller, done in sanguine with white chalk highlights, the figure is drawn from a low view-point, with her body twisting toward her left side while resting on one knee. Note how Müller alternates the bent right leg with the bent left arm to create dynamic contrast. The right arm is also foreshortened and partially in shadow. Expressing power and femininity, this is a study that is Renaissance in spirit, even Mannerist, revealing the female nude as sculptural yet always graceful. Anton Raphael Mengs , Seated male nude viewed from the back, 1755 One of several Academic nu

The Genius of Ramon Casas

Open Air Interior, 1892 Born on January 4, 1866 in Barcelona, Ramon Casas i Carbó was a Spanish portrait painter and graphic designer. He was a contemporary of Santiago Rusiñol , both founders of the Spanish art movement modernisme . Where Santiago painted pensive interiors and moody landscapes, Casas focused more on the portrait and figure with a penchant for costume and posture. His palette often consists of more muted tones with vibrant color accents. Casas enjoyed a lengthy and prominent career throughout Europe and South America where he often exhibited in shows with his friend Rusiñol. In Open Air Interior above, Casas encapsulates a quiet moment outdoors during tea time. I love these kind of paintings for their calm visual intensity. The way that man sits in his chair, lost in thought while his wife carefully stirs her tea...this is the kind of mindfulness in the subjects that makes us, the viewer, envision ourselves in this scene. Casas paints the far wall of the house

Isaac Levitan, Russian Poet of Nature

Before the Storm, 1890 Born August 30, 1860, Isaac Ilyich Levitan was a Russian landscape painter. Born in Congress Poland to a Jewish family, Levitan would study art in Moscow where he would become friends with Anton Chekov and his brother, Nikolay who was also an artist. Levitan's work has a unique mood that is very distinct from the Impressionism of France and the Classicism of Russia...sometimes compared to Monet but still different. Levitan has a rare presence with astute attention to detail and a fascination with light at different times of day. At times highly accurate, while in his more personal work deeply Impressionistic and imbued with rich tone and color. There is something about Levitan that lingers in your mind long after seeing his a way that is individual and personal, not attached to a specific genre or movement, but to the world around him. In Before the Storm , Levitan captures a moment so stunning it seems to defy words...of sunlight piercing