Sunday, November 06, 2011

Gausta Peak

I mentioned Peder Balke in connection with the National Gallery's 'Forests, Rocks, Torrents' exhibition but thought I would add another post because he is an interesting example of that not uncommon phenomenon, the rediscovered landscape artist. Christopher Riopelle says in the catalogue that Balke is only emerging now 'in international eyes as a master of Norwegian landscape, the subject of exhibitions, scholarly publications and bidding wars in auction rooms.'  The National Gallery recently bought a small seascape The Tempest -  the first Balke painting to enter a British public collection.  Riopelle compares Balke to August Strindberg, whose landscape painting (see my earlier post) has also only come to prominence in recent decades.  'Like Strindberg, Balke was blithely convinced his work sat squarely in the mainstream,' whilst for us the paintings look more like forerunners of expressionism.   From the 1860s Balke gave up trying to make his living as a painter and turned instead to real estate (a sad fate for a landscape painter, one might think).  When he died in 1884 his art was forgotten, but in his spare time Balke had continued to produce experimental landscape paintings, drawing on the memories of his travels, and 'small black and white improvisations' like The Tempest.

Peder Balke, Gausta Peak, 1877

Another Nordic artist I've discussed here before, Per Kirkeby, wrote a book about Peder Balke in 1996 which in turn inspired a joint exhibition two years ago.  I have not had the opportunity to read this book but the website for Norwegian artist Espen Dietrichson includes a description.
'Kirkeby writes that, by looking at artists such as Balke, Turner and Delacroix, we can discover an alternative historical realism. This depends on identifying a range of painters’ ‘dirty tricks’, such as how texture can be used to create calculated, dramatic effects, and how experimentation with new perspectives can change perception. Kirkeby maintains that the pervading art historical distinction between pure abstraction and less honourable effects has traumatised art in relation to its history. This is why he finds it so important to solve the enigma of Peder Balke and to thereby understand why the elevated and sublime can only be achieved through the ‘dirtiest of means’. For example, Balke’s outsider position as a small-town painter-decorator [i.e. his early background, before training as an artist] allowed him to eschew the codified illusionism of (Norwegian) national romanticism, and hence to make use of techniques that differed radically from those of his contemporaries – marbling, or the use of sponges or combs on wet paint – which would have seemed a profanation of academic dogmas.'

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