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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Frits Thaulow

The Mill Stream, Frits Thaulow
In selecting artists and their work about which to write, I have a weakness for Impressionism. I also have a pronounced bias toward Realism (with a capital "R"), not to be confused with realistic paintings. When I find an artist who deftly handles both, then I count myself fortunate to have discovered a real gem. Although both movements are related historically (without Realism it's unlikely there would have been Impressionism), stylistically they would seem to be polar opposites. The French Realism of Corot, Millet, and Courbet was a vital stepping stone away from Academic content without eschewing the Academic traditions of technique and style. The Impressionists embraced the new freedom of Realism to paint virtually anything from the real world, but to do so in search for an almost scientific naturalism as to color. Some Impressionists were much more successful in this search than others. One of the more successful in combining Realism and Impressionism, and proving that they are not actually polar opposites, was the Norwegian landscape painter, Frits Thaulow.

None of these are self-portraits. If not photos of the artist, they were likely
drawn or painted by his friend, Christian Krohg.
It's uncertain how Thaulow came to embrace Impressionism. He studied at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen during the early 1870s, but it would seem unlikely he'd pick up anything as "foreign" as French Impressionism from that source. In any case, in France at the time, Impressionism was still almost prenatal. Thaulow also studied with Hans Gude at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe (Germany). But Hans Gude was certainly no Impressionist. Although Thaulow lived and work in Paris from 1890s on, by that time he was already thoroughly evolved as to style, if not involved in the movement. Wherever Thaulow acquired his Impressionist style, it would be safe to say he was the first Impressionist artist in Norway.
A scene from Skagen, early 1880s, Frits Thaulow

It takes a really dedicated Impressionist
to paint outdoors in the winter.
Thaulow's naturalism is no mystery. His best friend was the much more well-known Norwegian painter and illustrator, Christian Krohg, who encouraged Thaulow to accompany him (in Thaulow's boat) to the northern tip of Jutland (Denmark) to a small fishing village called Skagen where they would spend the summer of 1879 painting. The sojourn ended up stretching well into the fall. Thaulow's stony beach (above) seems to be from the summer months while his The Mill Stream (top) dates from a few months later. And if Thaulow's icy, snowy landscapes, such as the one at left, are any indication, at some point in time (possibly the following year) Thaulow would appear to have spent the winter there...painting outdoors, no less. He was an Impressionist, after all. All three boast a brash, highly natural use of color not often found in the work of more "timid" Impressionists.

The Adige River at Verona, 1894, Frits Thaulow
Skagen Painters, 1883,
Frits Thaulow
Frits Thaulow was born in 1847, making him some five years older than his friend, Krohg. Thaulow was born in Christiana (now Oslo), Norway, while Krohg was born in a nearby suburb of the city. Both men came from upper-middle-class families. Thaulow's father was a wealthy chemist. They both studied under Hans Gude at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe where they probably first met. After their little painting foray to Denmark, Krohg spent two years in Paris where he was a leading figure in the transition from Romanticism to Realism. Thaulow remained centered in Norway where his work attracted a group of followers known as the Skagen Painters, which would seem to indicate that Thaulow and his friends often returned to Skagen, Denmark, to paint in the 1880s. The group portrait by Thaulow (left) includes (from the left) Eilif Petersen, Michael Ancher (standing), Wilhelm Peters, Charles Lundh, Degn Brøndum, Johan Krouthén, Oscar Björch and Christian Krohg.

The Thaulow Family, Jacques-Emile Blanche
Perhaps at Krohg's urging, Thaulow moved to Paris in 1892 where he lived until his death in 1906. The painting of Frits Thaulow and his family (above) is by another artist friend Thaulow met in Paris, Jacques-Emile Blanche. Seen before a rapidly painted, indistinct background, evoking a cluster of trees, Blanche depicts Thaulow as he paints, surrounded by his wife and children. Blanche undertook the work in difficult circumstances at a time when his mother was in ill-health. Thaulow himself had to square up a small preparatory drawing to get his friend to pick up his brushes and finish the painting. As a result, just as he was about to lose his mother, Blanche painted one of his most beautiful paintings--a family full of life, love, and tenderness.

At Quimperle,  1901, Frits Thaulow
Although Paris was quite fond of Thaulow's work, Thaulow was not very fond of Paris. The city's wide, bustling thoroughfares were a far cry from the rural Norway he'd painted all his life. So, he gravitated to the north of France, to the small towns of Montreuil-sur-Mer, Dieppe, and surrounding villages as well as Quimperle in Brittany and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in the Corrèze. His At Quimperle (above) was painted during this period. And, at some point after he moved to France, probably around 1894, Thaulow spent some time in northern Italy. These paintings done late in his life, include several depicting the canals of Venice (below), though they seemed to have been a pale imitation of his swiftly moving Norwegian streams.

Thaulow's Venice reflects his interest in the commonplace over the grand.
Rialto, 1895, Frits Thaulow

The Marble Step, 1903, Frits Thaulow


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