Romantic, not Roman

The exhibit wall reads, "Not only under the Italian sky, among majestic domes, and Corinthian columns, but also under printed arches, intricately decorated buildings, and Gothic towers true art grows." The words of Wilhelm Heinrich Wackenroder, a German Romantic polemicist, fit well with Majestic Nature/Golden History, the Smart Museum's exhibition of 19th-century German art. The works in the show bespeak a self-conscious urge to forge a specifically Germanic style.

One artist featured in Majestic Nature, Johan Christian Clausen Dahl, broke with neoclassicism in works like Clouds, a small watercolor of puffy cumulus clouds, contrasting with the geometric exactness and large scale of classical Italian painting. Though Dahl was Norwegian by birth, he studied in Dresden with Caspar David Friedrich, one of Romanticism's most famous representatives.

Throughout the show, Goethe's influence on 19th-century German painting emerges. Peter Cornelius's cycle of 1816 prints, based on Goethe's Faust, features fine lines and silvery tones. "I wanted to be absolutely German," Cornelius said, "and therefore selected this form." The painting's medieval setting and Gothic feel earned Goethe's admiration; there's not a dome or column to be found.

Seth Mayer, '08

Cornelius_Faust_thumb.jpg Dahl_ElbeTrees_thumb.jpg Ramboux_Moselthales_thumb.jpg

Images (left to right): Peter Cornelius (designer) and Ferdinand Ruscheweyh (engraver), Valentin's Death (Valentins Tod), from the series Twelve Illustrations to Goethe's Faust, 1816, engraving; Johan Christian Clausen Dahl, Trees by the River Elbe in Rain, 1834, oil on canvas; Johann Anton Ramboux, View of the Moselle Valley below Trier with the Rocks of Pallien in the Foreground, 1824–27, lithograph.

August 27, 2007