Albertina Museum opens its largest-ever survey of the history of landscape painting

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Albertina Museum opens its largest-ever survey of the history of landscape painting
Paul Klee, Country House near Fribourg, 1915. Watercolors and gold paint. The Albertina Museum, Vienna. The Forberg Collection.



VIENNA.- Surveying the past five centuries of landscape painting enables us to quite literally see how human identity has been transformed. Our own visual experience of these perspectives lets us perceive and feel the changes in human beings’ self-concept from generation to generation. Those who portray nature also end up revealing themselves in equal measure, which makes for a fascinating journey of (self-)discovery, a search for orientation, a wordless dialogue with our origins and our shared history.

For this largest-ever survey of the history of landscape painting, the Albertina Museum is opening up its treasure trove to show world-famous masterpieces alongside unique works that haven’t been seen publicly in decades. Visitors can look forward to strolling through a diverse assemblage of over 280 landscape paintings from five centuries. From the beginnings of the autonomous landscape painting and from its pioneers, foremost among them Albrecht Dürer, the historical arc traced here extends to encompass Bruegel, Rembrandt, and the Dutch Golden Age, urban panoramas from the Renaissance and close-up vedute, utopian visions of Arcadian landscapes and illusionless, realistic views of nature from the age of industrialization, and images of grandeur and the sublime by Caspar David Friedrich as well as the horrific visions and dystopias of Alfred Kubin and the child-like dreams of playful nature originated by Paul Klee. Key works of romantic landscape and Austrian watercolor painting from the 19th century such as Jakob and Rudolf von Alt’s views of Vienna round off this presentation.

A New Perspective on the World

Western art’s very first landscape paintings were created all the way back in antiquity. However, the centuries prior to end of the Middle Ages were dominated by the golden background familiar to us from images of Christian saints. The subsequent flowering of the Renaissance then shifted the focus to human beings and nature, with Albrecht Dürer pioneering the autonomous landscape painting along with a new sort of naturalism.

But it was the Netherlands that, during the 17th century, the creation of landscapes eclipsed that of any other country in the world in terms of both quality and quantity, a unique flowering of the arts that is quite deservedly known as the “Dutch Golden Age.” That country’s Protestant middle class coveted paintings for display at home. And to satisfy the immense demand, artists specialized in the most varied themes including portrayals of flat landscapes extending unfathomably far out to the horizon, urban views, seascapes, and winter scenes.

French Heyday

In 17th- and 18th-century France, the art of drawn landscapes blossomed in a special way. It was not Paris, however, but Rome with its southern atmosphere and picturesque ancient ruins that became a central theme of French art and a second home to many artists. Their works were meant not as faithful representations of nature but to capture atmospheric moods, to which end they employed light effects achieved with washes of various thickness. The style of 18th-century French art known as rococo represents an unparalleled celebration of exaggerated artifice, and rococo landscape portrayals reflect this. François Boucher, the most popular artist of his day, arranged topographical features to create idealized views that matched city dwellers’ idyllic conceptions of nature.




Human Beings Seen through Nature’s Mirror

The early Enlightenment, the natural sciences, technology, and expeditions to far-off places gave rise to such contradictory movements and styles as classicism, romanticism, and realism. In reaction to the preceding rococo era’s opulent playfulness, idealized classicist landscapes adhere to a purist formal language. Caspar David Friedrich, romanticism’s central figure, projected a melancholic yearning for the infinite and unbounded onto nature’s sublime countenance. He also showed the rapid growth of Europe’s metropolises in his elevated views and urban panoramas, thereby replacing representative vedute with realistic views that assumed a pioneering role in the landscape painting of the 19th century.

On the Eve of Modernism

The intellectual climate surrounding the dawn of the 20th century alternated between faith in progress and an apocalyptic mood. Rapid industrialization and urbanization brought forth a yearning for the romantic that was equaled by the attendant rise in cultural pessimism— two opposite poles that can be sensed in Ludwig Rösch’s dreamy charcoal drawings and Alfred Kubin’s dystopian world. This period also witnessed the revolutionization of art history as well as a turning point in landscape painting in that art was for the first time liberated from the principle of imitating nature, becoming independent of everything the eye could see. To be sure, Emil Nolde, August Macke, and Paul Klee did do their painting in real places—but creating topographically accurate or picturesque reproductions no longer interested them. Instead, they concentrated on a painting’s overall appearance, on shapes and colors lifted from their natural models and arranged with hard contrasts and maximum luminance. It was no longer the visible landscape that they showed, but its expressionist interpretation and abstract reinvention.

City – Countryside
From Albrecht Dürer to Paul Klee


Today, instantaneously capturing a landscape or city in pictures with one’s smartphone is a matter of course. But when, in times of a pandemic, travelling can suddenly not be taken for granted any more, this sharpens the eye for our own surroundings, as well as for artistic investigations into the landscape, the depiction of which has undergone exciting developments.

With this exhibition, the ALBERTINA Museum invites you to take part in a colourful tour of landscape pictures from five centuries. It spans from the beginnings of the autonomous landscape picture and its trailblazers, headed by Albrecht Dürer, to Bruegel, Rembrandt, and the Dutch Golden Age; from Poussin’s and Lorrain’s impressive landscape studies to town panoramas of the Baroque. Utopic designs of Arcadian and Romantic landscapes coincide with the sober and realistic image of nature of the industrial age. A new type of realism reached its zenith in virtuoso watercolours by Jakob and Rudolf von Alt. At the turn of the twentieth century, however, the focus of artists was on a nature that had stopped being visible, i.e. on its Expressionist interpretation and its reinvention in abstraction. This opens up new perspectives of the landscape and of man-made cities built into nature: whether fantastic, idyllic, idealised, rendered in the guise of antiquity, heroic, or seemingly objectively described – nature has become a projection screen for humans acting in it and looking at it.

All of the works on view come from the holdings of the ALBERTINA Museum. The major part was acquired by the museum’s founder, Duke Albert of Saxony-Teschen (1738–1822), who was primarily interested in highly finished, large-size landscape drawings of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: for example, he collected landscapes by Adrian Zingg and his students because of their artistic quality and because they reminded him of his former homeland Saxony. During his last years in particular, Duke Albert concentrated on the acquisition of landscapes, an exquisite selection of which is presented here.










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