A while back, I blogged about a new acquisition at the National Gallery, a seascape by the hitherto obscure Norwegian artist Peder Balke. That tiny painting left me wanting to see more of Balke's work, and I finally had my chance today, when I visited "Forest, Rocks, Torrents," the Gallery's free exhibition of 19th-century Swiss and Norwegian landscapes from the Lunde Collection.
There's a little seascape by Balke in this exhibition too, as well as a larger one showing the Trolltinden mountains in the background. Balke also provides the only cityscape in the exhibition -- a lovely Moonlit View of Stockholm, with the harbour and surrounding streets looking quite peaceful -- and, perhaps more surprisingly, the only painting with snow (Landscape from Finnmark).
The other landscapes in the exhibition seemed to have been painted in better weather, but that's not to say they were particularly cheery. Many were stony, bleak and, above all, lonely -- even when people and houses appeared, the effect seemed to be to highlight their isolation in the mountains. There were a few bright exceptions, however, such as the Swiss painter Alexandre Calame's pictures of Lake Lucerne. In Souvenir of Lake Lucerne, a small boy tugs at his mother's sleeve as they walk in the shade of lush trees on a sunny day, while in Lake Lucerne, Uri-Rodstock a single bird swoops over the scene, adding just the right spark. Then there was Johann Gottfried Steffan, known as "the [Swiss-]German Calame," whose Lake Brienz, 12 September 1865 was filled with brilliant colour.
Besides Balke, there were a couple of other excellent Norwegian painters in the exhibition: Thomas Fearnley (who got his name from his British grandfather) and Johan Christian Dahl. Including them may have been cheating slightly, though, as both seemed to have painted their most interesting landscapes in Italy!
There was one thoroughly Norwegian painting that caught my eye, however: Knud Baade's Scene from the Era of Norwegian Sagas. I've never liked Nordic mythology, and attempts by cultures to rediscover their heritage from some supposed golden age always make me uneasy. The warrior holding a spear on the sea cliffs didn't do much for me. But the sky was magnificent, with the moon shining through storm clouds. That's heritage enough for Norway, surely?