A large pine tree dramatically leans into the picture and points towards the high cliffs in the background. In the sky, dark clouds clash as sunlight forces its way through the shrouds of fog. Through the use of the light and haze, the artist attempts to depict the power of the wild, mountainous landscape.
This picture was painted by Elias Martin. In the 1760s and 70s, he spent a total of twelve years in England. During this period, English landscape art experienced a golden age – artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and Richard Wilson strove to capture the typical English nature on canvas. They were fascinated by the wild and free landscape and this lead to the emergence of a new landscape tradition that differed radically from the classicistic, idealized landscape of southern Europe that Claude Lorrain, among others, had established. This painting shows how strongly Martin had been influenced by his contemporary English colleagues. The painting, most likely painted upon his return to Sweden in 1780 – is an exquisite example of the period’s new interest for wild and untamed nature. The sprawling pine, the rapids, and the inhospitable, shear cliffs, differ markedly from the idyllic or pastoral renditions of nature that, up till then, had dominated landscape art.
Have you discovered the people in the picture yet? In the gloom to the left of the pine tree, a figure can be seen, standing in front of a small cabin. Here, Martin strives to depict the experience of the sublime - that is, man’s smallness in relation to nature’s overwhelming power. The sublime became a central theme in the romantic landscape art of the 1800s. For Martin, the experience of the sublime was linked to a Christian, religious experience of nature. Upon describing his paintings or experiences of nature, Martin’s choice of words was often religion-inspired, and in the face of a landscape and the forces of nature, he felt the presence of God.