Johan Christian Dahl

1788 - 1857

Place Born


Place Died



Born in Bergen Norway, and trained at the Copenhagen Academy, Dahl nonetheless spent most of his working career in Germany. He is thus claimed by all three schools for their own, although it was his influence on the latter that was more important, as from 1824 until his death he held the senior professorship of art at the Dresden Academy. His memories of his homeland, however, provided him with themes that he reused throughout his career, but it was his attention to nature and use of the plein-air sketch that earned him the Dresden appointment in preference to Friedrich.

Dahl entered the Copenhagen Academy in 1811, as a pupil of C. A Lorentzen, an undistinguished painter who had looked at Vernet and concentrated on exaggerated mountainous views. It was Jens Juel, however, and Dahl’s exposure to the sketches and paintings made by Eckersberg on his foreign travels, that persuaded him to make use of plein-air sketches, essential to his artistic formation. The young painter also took advantage of his access to the Danish royal collection, strong in the work of Dutch 17th century artists, which led him to appreciate the Nordic landscapes of Jacob v. Ruisdael and Albert v. Everdingen, both of whom influenced his approach to the natural world. In 1818, after leaving the Academy, he made his first trip to Dresden, where he became acquainted with the work of Caspar David Friedrich, whose use of religious symbols in landscape settings also affected Dahl, even though the younger artist was to temper this with stronger naturalism.

Like so many painters, he felt bound to undertake an Italian trip, spending a few months in Rome where he joined the German and Danish expatriates in exploring the Roman Campagna and the Amalfi coast. Upon his return he was appointed to the Dresden Academy where he taught a whole generation of German painters, and continued his relationship with the many Danish artists who passed through on their journey to and from Italy. Dahl, however, like Friedrich, was also as much interested in the ‘spirit of nature’ as natural phenomena, and in his admiration for ‘honest’ naïvety (in the words of Franz Pforr) there was no ‘virtuoso brush-work, no bold handling was to be seen; everything presented itself simply, like something frown rather than painted.’ Nonetheless ‘in his conception of landscape he was a pure naturalist, seizing on the details of rocks and trees and plants and meadows with quite extraordinary mastery; working with amazing facility, but leaving much to chance, he often seemed to surrender himself to the objective’ (Carus, writing of Dahl). Dahl may be compared with Constable in that both saw landscape as a means of recording moods and impressions, but they lack the bravura of the English master and Dahl was uninterested in experimenting with technique in order to achieve a particular effect of light. In terms of technique his approach was conventional, but nonetheless it was fresh and direct. Dahl was himself a substantial collector who never lost touch with his homeland; indeed, after his death he bequeathed his collection to the Norwegian capital, Oslo, where it provided the basis for the Norwegian National Gallery.

Art Works Sold

Mountain Landscape with a Castle

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Historical Period: 1810-1870 Romanticism
Mountain Landscape with a Castle