The Norwegian Peder Balke's The Jostedalsbreen Glacier, from the 1840s, illustrates better than most Nordic works the first theme of the exhibition: the sublime dimension of landscape, in its original sense of an overwhelming, even terrifying beauty. In this panorama of the largest glacier in mainland Europe, framed by cloud-encircled peaks, Balke presents nature in all its majesty.

The change in taste that had made it possible to appreciate such a subject had occurred back in the eighteenth century, establishing the Sublime as a new aesthetic category. In addition, concepts like nature and naturalness had assumed new significance. As far as mountain scenery was concerned, this meant that a view which previously had only inspired fear and terror could now be regarded as sublime, that is, it could offer an aesthetic pleasure that came from the enjoyment of beholding danger without being threatened oneself.

Peder Balke shared his interest in majestic mountain views with the most influential of Norwegian painters, Johan Christian Dahl. And no one was to play a more significant role than the Dresden-based Dahl in introducing the Nordic mountain landscape on the European art scene. Through him, moreover, mountains became a national symbol of Norway, at that time the only extravagance that this impoverished peasant country could boast.

The wilderness landscape was to be developed, not least, in the Nordic artists' colony in Düsseldorf in the 1850s and 1860s. Here, the Swede Marcus Larson used every means available, including photographs and new, bright cadmium and chromium paints, to elevate Swedish nature to a heroically sublime level. With its theatrical lighting and seductively detailed realism, his Waterfall in Småland, painted in Paris in 1856, represents a high point in the work of these Nordic painters in exile. There are clear parallels here with American artists such as Albert Bierstadt, who like Larson had been inspired in the 1850s by the German Andreas Achenbach in Düsseldorf. Together with the Norwegian Hans Fredrik Gude, who was professor of landscape painting at the Düsseldorf Academy, Achenbach was one of the artists whose presence prompted Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish painters to emigrate to the city on the Rhine in the middle decades of the century.

Shipwreck on the Coast of Norway, Johan Christian Dahl, 1832

Johan Christian Dahl
Norwegian, 1788-1857
Shipwreck on the Coast of Norway, 1832

The Jostedal Glacier, Peder Balke, 1840s

Peder Balke
Norwegian, 1804-1887
The Jostedal Glacier, 1840s

Stetind in Fog, Peder Balke , 1864

Peder Balke
Norwegian, 1804-1887
Stetind in Fog, 1864

The Cliffs of the Island of Møn, Louis Gurlitt, 1842

Louis Gurlitt
Danish, 1812-1897
The Cliffs of the Island of Møn, 1842

Waterfall in Småland, Marcus Larson, 1856

Marcus Larson
Swedish, 1825-1864
Waterfall in Småland, 1856