Sublime Landscapes of Dutch Romanticism
In painting too, romance means emotion, atmosphere and passion – losing oneself in the moment. The sublime mountain landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich and the seascapes of J.M.W. Turner are foreign icons of romanticism. The exhibition ‘Grand and Glorious. Sublime Landscapes of Dutch Romanticism’ shows a broad selection of works, in which famous Dutch landscape artists found strongest expression for their extreme emotional experience of Nature. Grand landscapes which present Nature at its most awe-inspiring.
For this exhibition in the ‘De Hallen Haarlem Summer Series’ a number of themes were chosen: endless vistas, nocturnal scenes, mountain and river landscapes, waterfalls, shipwrecks, storms and woodland giants. All five rooms of the museum are filled with over 150 oil paintings, drawings, watercolours and sketchbooks by masters such as Barend Koekkoek, Johannes Tavenraat, Andreas Schelfhout, Wijnand Nuyen and Jacob Abels.
To depict these magnificent scenes of nature, the Romantic painters gratefully fell back on the work of the masters of the Dutch Golden Age like Jacob van Ruisdael and Meindert Hobbema. One can also discern foreign influences. But most of all, they allowed themselves to be inspired by Nature itself: personal nature studies realised during trips at home and abroad served as the basis for all their paintings and drawings. As a result, a wealth of original works came into being in the period 1780-1860 that are still remarkable today for their tremendous professional skill and inventiveness. The makers already won considerable international acclaim with these works in their own time.
The boundless expanse of the Dutch polder landscape inspired artists. For a wilder kind of nature, many Romantics travelled to countries like Germany and Italy. During a study trip through the Rhineland in 1840, the landscape painter Barend Koekkoek was filled with ‘mute wonder about God’s holy and beautiful nature’. On mountain excursions, his experience of Nature was both ‘sublimely beautiful’ but also, on occasion, ‘terrifying’. He even wept ‘tears of joy’.
There are many such testimonies of profound feelings for Nature – often with religious overtones – in the letters and travel accounts of Romantic artists. But more than anything, it is in their paintings and drawings that Koekkoek and his colleagues were able to express this emotional experience of Nature. Their awe of a ‘grand’ and noble Nature that commands humility of the observer is typical of the Romantic Age. Like them, the philosophers and writers of that time (Johannes Kinker, Willem Bilderdijk) described this experience of nature as something ‘sublime’ and exalted, at once both beautiful and frightening.
The Romantic mentality is once again amply represented in contemporary art. De Hallen Haarlem regularly shows examples of this mindset, for instance in the recent exhibitions of work by Uwe Henneken, Guido van der Werve and Slater Bradley. The exhibition ‘Grand and Glorious’ gives an idea of the historical background of this mentality.
Numerous museums and private collections in the Netherlands and abroad gave works on loan for the exhibition, including Stiftung B.C. Koekkoek – Haus in Kleef, the Rijksmuseum and the Rademakers Collection.