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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.

Details

  • Title: Romantic Landscape with Spruce
  • Creator: Elias Martin
  • Date Created: 1768/1780
  • Title in Swedish: Romantiskt landskap med gran
  • Physical Dimensions: w890 x h1150 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Elias Martin was the leading Swedish landscape painter of the late 18th century. Born in Stockholm in 1739, he embarked on his artistic path as pupil to a decorative painter in the Swedish capital. However, his artistic career took off during his time at the huge Suomenlinna fortress complex in Finland from 1763–65, where the artistically gifted governor Augustin Ehrensvärd took the young Martin under his wing and introduced him to different painting techniques, subjects and styles. In 1766 Martin headed to Paris, where he studied for a while under the French landscape painter Claude Joseph Vernet. However, his time in the French capital was short-lived and in 1768 he continued on to London, where he stayed for the next 12 years. This just goes to show how London was competing with Paris and Rome as a centre of education and artistic inspiration during the 18th century. In 1770 Martin was made an associate member of the Royal Academy in London and enjoyed considerable success in the vibrant English art market. He took part in the Royal Academy’s annual exhibitions, took on commissions for country house portraits from the English nobility and opened his studio up to locals with an interest in art. In 1780 Martin returned to Stockholm and established himself as the leading Swedish landscape artist of his time. Even after his homecoming, he continue to work in the English landscape tradition, but adapted it to a personal style that better suited the Nordic countryside and his Swedish audience. His most important subjects were cityscapes of Stockholm, depictions of Swedish rural scenes and images from the ironworks of Middle Sweden. Alongside this, he was also a pioneer in depicting the Nordic wilderness, which his talent helped to establish as a key motif in Swedish art. In addition to his oil paintings, Martin also developed his watercolour technique, and inspired many others to do the same.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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