The second half of the nineteenth century was to see an increasingly rapid succession of artistic ideals. Often, conflicts and irreconcilable tensions would arise between these different tendencies and movements. This was particularly true of the attempts that were made to bring art and reality closer together - an endeavour that provided one of the main themes of this period, in art and literature alike.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the second theme of the exhibition, Close to Nature, should in almost every respect represent the opposite of the Sublime.

The exhibition as a whole, moreover, reflects a movement away from a heroic interpretation of Nordic nature towards a depiction of landscape that was increasingly firmly rooted in reality. A movement that culminated in the breakthrough of Realism in the mid-1880s, before returning once again to more subjective and emotionally coloured representations.

An important first sign of a closer engagement between art and reality was a growing tendency on the part of artists to produce painted studies directly from nature. Elsewhere in Europe, the practice of painting small studies in front of the motif, in order to capture the daylight, the colours and different atmospheric phenomena, had begun to spread back in the 1780s. This new search for a greater measure of truth in landscape painting reflected a changed attitude to nature which, in the Nordic countries, first emerged in Danish art during what is known as the Golden Age, from around 1815 to 1850, and in the work of the Norwegian Johan Christian Dahl.

The new interest in a direct representation of reality gradually began to narrow the gap that existed between the direct recording of reality which nature study demanded and studio painting's insistence on beauty and idealization. It was to be a long, hard struggle, however, not least where subjects of a national character were concerned. The academic demand for technical finish was also very firmly established, and before the 1880s any tendencies towards painterly freedom were often mercilessly attacked by the art critics.

An example of how the new dimensions of landscape captured by the study of nature were gradually absorbed as a part of studio painting is provided by Hans Fredrik Gude's The Sandvik Fjord, 1879. Here we find a compromise between plein air painting's new emphasis on observation and the older tradition. This is seen, above all, in the artist's respect for detail and in the way he has reinforced the reflections of light in the water by painting the surrounding landscape in dark, muted tones. Produced just before Nordic art made the transition to Realism, The Sandvik Fjord represents an attempt to incorporate elements of the new concern with reality into the academic tradition, without sacrificing the careful craftsmanship that was part of that tradition.

The Fjord at Sandviken, Hans Gude, 1879

Hans Gude
Norwegian, 1825-1903
The Fjord at Sandviken, 1879

Fredriksberg Fortifications on Nordnes in Bergen, Johan Christian Dahl , 1834

Johan Christian Dahl
Norwegian, 1788-1857
Fredriksberg Fortifications on Nordnes in Bergen, 1834

Balestrand on the Sognefjord, Thomas Fearnley, (presumably 1839)

Thomas Fearnley
Norwegian, 1802-1842
Balestrand on the Sognefjord, (presumably 1839)

Zealand Landscape. Open Country in North Zealand, Johan Thomas Lundbye, 1842

Johan Thomas Lundbye
Danish, 1818-1848
Zealand Landscape. Open Country in North Zealand, 1842

Oat Field (Study), Peter Christian Skovgaard, 1843

Peter Christian Skovgaard
Danish, 1817-1875
Oat Field (Study), 1843

Pond Water Crowfoot, Eero Järnefelt , 1895

Eero Järnefelt
Finnish, 1863-1937
Pond Water Crowfoot, 1895

Imatra in Winter, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1893

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Finnish, 1865-1931
Imatra in Winter, 1893