Johan Christian Clausen Dahl – SOLD

Johan Christian Clausen Dahl (Bergen 1788 - 1857 Dresden)

Moonlight over the River Oder at Swinemünde
, Dresden 1839

Oil on paper laid down on panel, 6.9 x 11.8 cm
Signed and dated lower right Dahl 1839
Dahl’s dedication on the verso Pfarrer Doct. Hille. Als Erinnerung meiner Reise auf Deck unweit Schwinemünde zum freundl. Andenken. Von JDahl Dresden 24 Dec. 1839.
Executed on the back of a printed invitation card for a monthly meeting of the Dresden botanical and horticultural association known as FLORA

Dr. Hille, Dresden[1] (gift of the artist)
Simonsen, Christiania (1888)
Johan Mohn, Oslo
Private collection, Oslo

Christiania Kunstforening, Christiania, 1888, no. 108

Johan H. Langaard, J.C. Dahl’s verk, Minneutstilling, Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, 1937, no. 493
Marie Lødrup Bang, Johan Christian Dahl, 1788-1857. Life and Works, catalogue raisonné, Oslo 1987, II, no. 899 and III, plate CCCLXXXIII, fig. 899
Klaus Haese and Uwe Schröder, ‘Johan Christian Dahl, Swinemünde bei Mondschein; Pommersches Landesmuseum, Greifswald’, in Patrimonia 361, Berlin 2012, p. 13,
fig. 9


There reigns within me a certain predilection for coastlines, mountainous regions, waterfalls, sea vessels and harbours in daylight and by moonlight.[2] (Dahl, 1828)

Dahl, returning from his third visit to Norway in 1839, chose to take a new route home.[3] In Christiania, he boarded a ship bound for Gothenburg. The next port of call was Ystad in southern Sweden and from there, the ship crossed the Baltic to Swinemünde. The town lies on the river Swina, an arm of the Oder estuary, and was then an important Prussian harbour. The two pencil and wash drawings Dahl made from the deck of the ship on 8 October 1839 record his first impressions of the harbour.[4]


Fig. 1 Johan Christian Dahl, A Moonlit Night at Swinemünde, 1840

In December 1839, he made two small-format oil studies of nocturnal motifs based on the pencil drawings. He is known to have sent one of the two to a Frau von Coopmans in Brussels at some point that December.[5] The Coopmans sketch shows a windmill on the right of the image and there is no sailing boat. The second oil sketch – the present work – is a nocturnal scene. It depicts Swinemünde silhouetted against a night sky. Dahl’s rendering of the effects of light is highly atmospheric. Silvery moonlight, half obscured by banks of cloud, glints on the surface of the water. At the left of the image are the dark shapes of a large two-master and a tiny dinghy hugging its bow. The ship’s masts and the dark horizon line are set against the inky purple of the night sky. A tall, gothic-style steeple at the extreme left is simply artistic license – a product of the artist’s imagination. Dahl enriches a large-format painting of 1840 titled A Moonlit Night at Swinemünde (Fig. 1) with a similar artistic device.[6] This painting is now in the collection of the Pommersches Landesmuseum in Greifswald.[7]

In the mid 1820s Dahl compiled what he called a Liber Veritatis, a collection of drawings to serve as a visual aide-memoire of works he had sold or had given to friends. An autograph annotation adjacent to sheet number LV 592 of the Liber Veritatis states that he gave the present landscape sketch painted on the verso of his FLORA invitation card, to Dr. Hille, in 1839.[8] Most of the drawings in the collection are accompanied by autograph notes on the size and ownership of the originals. Dahl was a member of the Dresden botanical and horticultural association known as FLORA and – as is the case of the present sketch – often used the monthly invitation cards to sketch small views in oil. He would give many of these to friends as presents.[9]

On completion of his studies at the Copenhagen Academy of Fine Arts Dahl set off on the Grand Tour in the summer of 1818. He broke his journey in Dresden in the autumn. Here, he came into contact with Caspar David Friedrich who was to become a close friend. He travelled to Italy in 1820 but soon returned to Dresden. He settled permanently in the city in the following year. From 1823 onwards, Dahl and Friedrich shared a house with a view over the River Elbe. Dahl and Friedrich, together with Carl Gustav Carus, played a major role in the development of German Romantic painting. All three are regarded as the leading Dresden painters of the age.[10]

[1] Dr. Hille was a close friend of Dahl’s in Dresden. He owned four paintings by Dahl. See Marie Lødrup Bang, Johan Christian Dahl, 1788-1857. Life and Works, catalogue raisonné, Oslo 1987, II, nos. 332, 819, 899 and 923.

[2] Cited after Jan Drees, ‘Johan Christian Dahl und sein Weg zur Natur’, in Herwig Guratzsch (ed.), Johan Christian Dahl, der Freund Caspar David Friedrichs, exhib. cat., Munich, Haus der Kunst and Stiftung Schleswig- Holsteinisches Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf, Schleswig 2002, p. 15, note 1.

[3] Dahl visited Norway in the years 1826, 1834, 1839, 1844 and 1850.

[4] Johan Christian Dahl, Swinemünde, pencil and wash on paper, 11.6 x 16.7 cm, signed, dated and inscribed Svinemünde d. 8. Octbr.1839 Dahl, Oslo, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, inv. 02774.

[5] Bang, op. cit., II, p. 276, no. 900: Moonlight over the Oder near Swinemünde, oil on paper laid down on cardboard, 7.3 x 12 cm, signed and dated JDahl 1839, private collection, Hamburg.

[6] In his paintings, Caspar David Friedrich, Dahl’s close friend in Dresden, is also known to have deployed motifs that were topographically incorrect or unrelated to the immediate subject of the work. See Haese and Schröder, op. cit., p. 13 and p. 15.

[7] A Moonlit Night at Swinemünde, 1840, oil on canvas, 54.4 x 82 cm, Pommersches Landesmuseum, Greifswald, inv. aa002345 (Bang, op. cit., II, no. 908), with Daxer & Marschall in 2012. A larger-format oil study by Dahl, also executed in 1839, is in the collection of the Bergen Kunstmuseum: A Moonlit Night at Swinemünde, 1839, oil on canvas, 22.3 x 31.7 cm, inv. BB.M. 1005 (Bang, op. cit., II, p. 276, no 898).

[8] See Bang, op. cit., II, p. 276.

[9] See Bang, op. cit., II, pp. 27-8.

[10] Hans-Joachim Neidhardt, ‘Johan Christian Dahl – ein norwegischer Maler in Dresden’, in Johan Christian Dahl 1788-1857. Ein Malerfreund Caspar David Friedrich, exhib. cat., Munich, Neue Pinakothek, Munich 1988, pp. 15-19.

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