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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Hans Gude

Vinterettermiddag, 1847, Hans Gude, one of his early works, painted at the age of twenty-two.
Hans Gude Self-portrait
If an American artist studies in France, does that make them a French artist? If a Norwegian artist studies in Germany, does that make him a German artist? That was the dilemma facing the Norwegian landscape painter, Hans Gude most of his life. Though born 1825 and raised in Christiana (now Oslo), he trained in his teen years by working under various artists in his own country. However, once Gude had progressed beyond the Royal School of Drawing (basically what we'd consider high school level drawing classes), he was forced to head for Dusseldorf, Germany, for Academic training. There he found he was not very good at drawing and painting figures (considered the only true path to artistic beauty at the time). Gude was a landscape painter, actually much more adept at seascapes, coming from a country bathed in Nordic sunlight in which there was so much rugged coastal beauty as inspiration.
Bunnefjorden Fra Malmoya, 1884, Hans Gude
--a thoroughly Norwegian seascape, the type Gude came to excel at.
Falls in Nesbyen, 1857, Hans Gude
Initially, the sixteen-year-old Gude did not impress anyone at Dusseldorf, least of all his would-be instructor, Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, who advised him to give up any thoughts of becoming an artist and to train in some other discipline. Consequently, he was rejected by the Academy. However another academy instructor, Andreas Achenbach, was sufficiently recognizant of his talent to afford him private instruction (what we might term remedial art classes). A year later, in 1842, Gude was accepted by the Dusseldorf Academy of Art studying under the same instructor who had so summarily dismissed his efforts before. This time the young man made rapid progress, by the end of the year having risen to the top of his class of twelve. A year later, his report card termed him "very talented."

Vinterscene, 1874, Hans Gude. He was at his best in painting romantic winter vistas.
The Fishing Children of Chiemsee
 1867, Hans Gude
As a student about to graduate to the "real world," as we'd call it today, Gude encountered two conflicting trends in landscape painting (though they were not limited to landscape painting by any means). There was the Classical and the Romantic. The same stylistic battle was also part of the "landscape" in Paris, Rome, London, and other academic art centers in Europe. The Classicists wished to impose "rules and regulations" upon landscape painting as related to the Renaissance Classicism of Nicholas Poussin or Claude Lorrain. Gude tended toward the Romantics, viewing nature as rugged, untamed, unbidden to the will of the artist. The Classical landscape was decorative and secondary to the foreground. The Romantic landscape was seen as naturally beautiful, only awaiting the talent of the painter to record it in realistic splendor. The trends might today be analogous to conservatism and liberalism. All this was important simply because for the next forty-five years, this Norwegian-born, German-trained painter was to instruct, guide, and influence three whole generations of northern European artists.

Norwegian Coast, 1871, Hans Gude
In 1854, Hans Gude was appointed Professor of Landscape Painting at the Dusseldorf Academy replacing Johann Schirmer, his former instructor. He was twenty-nine at the time, the youngest Professor at the Academy. Unfortunately, he was treated as such, his pay at the bottom of the scale, his nationality not sitting well with the rest of the faculty at the German institution. In 1855, Gude resigned in disgust. Only after he resigned was he treated with any respect and a raise. It took him another five years to finally leave Dusseldorf.

In Bathavn, 1891, Hans Gude
When Gude moved on to England, specifically Wales, he began to paint outdoors. Moreover, he took a lot of his Norwegian students from Dusseldorf with him. A year later, history repeated itself as Gude was offered the position as director of the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe (southwestern Germany). There he was afforded a generous salary, free lodging and studio space, as well as frequent sabbaticals in order to study and paint elsewhere in Europe. Again he followed in the footsteps of Schirmer, his former instructor, whom he once more replaced. Karlsruhe gain was Dusseldorf's loss as his former students flocked to him. In 1868, While at Karlsruhe, Gude painted Fra Chiemsee (below), which was widely praised, won several awards, and was purchased by the Kunsthistorisches Hofmuseum in Vienna. Six years later, he moved on up the academic ladder to the Academy of Art in Berlin.

Fra Chiemsee, 1868, Hans Gude. It was the high-water mark of his career.
As the 19th century moved on to new styles, new ways of thinking about art, and in fact, new art, Gude didn't. Hans Gude was an academicist through and through, defending academic truisms, academic ways and mean, and most tellingly, academic styles. As so often happens in art, especially during this time as Modern Art took hold and shook up the European art world, Gude found himself in the position of seeming old-fashioned. Even in his homeland, his work faded in popularity as various secessionist movements wrested art students away from traditional content and images. Landscape painting was no longer seen as simply a means of revealing nature but as a means unto itself. Realizing this, Gude retired from the Berlin Academy in 1901. He died two years later, his work and his artistic standing a victim of art for art's sake.

H√łnefoss, 1893, Hans Gude--from his time at the Berlin Academy.


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