I have become a regular visitor to Hamburg this year, as it is a convenient stopping off point on the train journey from London through to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, where work takes me frequently. Usually I arrive late and leave early, but recently I discovered what I had been missing, after an early doors trip to the Hamburger Kuntshalle gallery. Most exciting were the landscapes of Caspar Friederich, an artist I had never previously encountered, but whose ‘Hill and Ploughed Field Near Dresden’ now lights up my soul every time I turn on my iPad.
As I now understand it, Friederich was an Enlightenment artist who sought to tug an emotional response to nature from his audience, often through depicting a small human figure against a dramatic outdoor landscape. Two hundred years later, the trick was still working on me.
Upon entering the upstairs room where Friederich’s main works are hung, ‘Wanderer in a Sea of Fog’ grabs the visitors’ attention, with its depiction an explorer (whom my friend accurately described as looking like Malcolm Maclaren from behind) standing aloft a rocky peak to survey a dramatic, mist-shrouded terrain. Across the room ‘Seashore in Moonlight’ magically evokes the mystical quality of a night-time ocean, that I have so often stared at in recent years from Rio de Janeiro to Ravenglass.
The lightly titled, ‘Hill and Ploughed Field Near Dresden’ was the one that just kept pulling me back, however. Taking a geometric approach to stratifying the golden sky, blue city, green trees, and brown earth, each element demands attention, while the dramatic colours remind me a little of the cover of Lemon Jelly’s debut album, ‘Lost Horizons’. I don’t have the vocabulary for doing justice to great art, but this painting simply makes me feel relaxed and happy.
Nature is a big theme throughout the museum, and elsewhere in the Kuntshalle there are some wonderful Norweigan landscapes by Johann Christian Dahl, and I particularly loved the colourful ‘Fisherman’s House’ by Julius von Ehren. But Caspar Friederich kept dragging me back and, in order to do justice to the rest of the gallery, I’m going to need another morning Hamburg stopover next time Scandanavia beckons..