Norwegian-born Johann Christian Dahl became familiar with the practice of the oil sketch during his two-year sojourn in Italy, creating numerous views of the Elbe in this technique after returning to his adopted home of Dresden in 1821. This small study is composed of strict horizontals. Using loose brushstrokes, Dahl caused the water, ground, and sky to blend into one another, making it impossible to discern the skyline. Only the curve in the river and the orange wedge of light in the cloudy sky suggest any depth. Ever since the Briton Luke Howard undertook his scientific categorizations of cloud formations at the end of the 18th century, this fleeting natural phenomenon had become a popular theme in landscape art of the early 19th century. For Dahl no less so, whereby he was not as concerned with specific cloud types as with capturing atmospheric moments. Dahl’s oil sketches of nature impressions that are so treasured today served merely to “refresh his memory,” in his own words. He seldom used them in preparation for his paintings.


  • Title: Study of the Elbe
  • Creator: Johan Christian Clausen Dahl
  • Date Created: c. 1833
  • Physical Dimensions: 17.7 x 20.5 cm
  • Type: painting
  • Rights: Kunsthalle Bremen - Der Kunstverein in Bremen
  • Medium: Oil on cardboard

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