(Fåborg 1812 - 1865 Copenhagen)
The Sailing Ship ‘Rhone’ in Dock in Marseilles, 1852
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas, 25.5 x 35.5 cm
Annotated with the name of the ship, Rhone Marseille;
Inscribed on the stretcher Carl Dahl. Studie fra Marseille. 1852
Private collection, New York.
Carl Dahl studied at the Copenhagen Academy of Fine Arts under the landscape painter Jens Peter Møller from 1835 to 1842. He was taught perspective drawing and composition by the architect Gustav Friedrich Hetsch. His career took an important turn on meeting Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. Today, Eckersberg is regarded as the leading painter of the Danish Golden Age. Eckersberg began to instruct Dahl in marine painting in 1840 and the genre became his major preoccupation. The two became fast friends, working together, sharing a studio and accompanying each other to the harbor to make sketches of ships. They often worked on each other’s paintings, particularly in the final stages of completion. When Eckersberg’s sight began to deteriorate in the early 1850s, it was often Dahl who added the detail of the masts, the rigging and the sails to Eckersberg’s paintings. Dahl taught perspective at the Academy from 1842 to 1848. While a drawing instructor at the Søkadet Academy from 1840 to 1852 he participated in the First Schleswig-Holstein War of 1848-50 and had the opportunity to perfect his perspective and painting skills by observing naval battles and maneuvers.
Dahl travelled extensively. He was in Lisbon in 1840, in Germany and the South of France in 1852 and 1855, in Norway in 1861, and in London and the Faroe Islands in 1862.
The present painting was executed in the port of Marseilles on Dahl’s first voyage to the South of France in 1852. It was almost certainly painted sur le motif and has the qualities of a rapid oil sketch – the upper masts of the ship are only schematically indicated. It is shown unrigged and lies in dry dock. The image is empty of figures and the main emphasis is on the dark shape of the ship and the rowing-boats in deep shadow in the foreground, while the focus of the light is on the city of Marseilles glimpsed in the background.
The quintessential appeal of Dahl’s paintings lies in their surreal stillness, which may trigger associations with the silent, unnaturally empty scenes created by artists of the Italian art movement Pittura Metafisica some sixty years later.
 The First Schleswig-Holstein War, or Three Years’ War (Danish: Treårskrigen), broke out in March 1848. The warring parties were the Kingdom of Denmark on the one hand and on the other, the German national liberal movement in the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in alliance with the majority of the members of the German Federation. The London Protocol, signed on 8 May 1852, ended hostilities. It guaranteed Danish sovereignty over the duchies but confirmed their status as independent entities.  For details of Dahl’s biography, see C. W. Eckersberg og hans elever, exhib. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen 1983, p. 93 f.; Kasper Monrad, in The Golden Age of Danish Painting, exhib. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1994, p. 71.