Johan Christian Claussen Dahl (24 February 1788 – 14 October 1857), often known as J. C. Dahl or I. C. Dahl, was a Norwegian artist who is considered the first great romantic painter in Norway, the founder of the “golden age” of Norwegian painting, and one of the greatest European artists of all time. He is often described as “the father of Norwegian landscape painting” and is regarded as the first Norwegian Painter ever to reach a level of artistic accomplishment comparable to that attained by the greatest European artists of his day. He was also the first to acquire genuine fame and cultural renown abroad. As one critic has put it, “J.C. Dahl occupies a central position in Norwegian artistic life of the first half of the 19th century.
Although Dahl spent much of his life outside of Norway, his love for his country is clear in the motifs he chose for his paintings and in his extraordinary efforts on behalf of Norwegian culture generally. Indeed, if one sets aside his own monumental artistic creations, his other activities on behalf of art, history, and culture would still have guaranteed him a place at the very heart of the artistic and cultural history of Norway. He was, for example, a key figure in the founding of the Norwegian National Gallery and of several other major art institutions in Norway, as well as in the preservation of Norwegian stave churches and the restoration of the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim and Håkonshallen in Bergen.
Dahl held that a landscape painting should not just depict a specific view, but should also say something about the land’s nature and character – the greatness of its past and the life and work of its current inhabitants. The mood was often idyllic, often melancholy. When he added snow to a landscape he painted in the summer, it was not to show the light and colors of snow; it was to use snow as a symbol of death. As one critic has put it, “Unlike the radically Romantic works also appearing at the time, Dahl softens his landscape, introducing elements of genre painting by imbuing it with anecdotal materials: In the background a wisp of smoke rises from a cabin, perhaps the home of the hunter on the snow-covered field.” Thanks to Sagen’s recommendations and to his own personal charm, Dahl soon gained access to the leading social circles in Copenhagen.
As a relocated North Georgia hillbilly, many of these landscapes speak to me. The mountains are never far from my heart.