Over the horizon Landscapes in modern art
September 5, 2009-February 7, 2010
Brightly-coloured, atmospheric, wild, pleasant, flat, hilly, figurative, abstract, two and three dimensional: landscapes take all kinds of forms in modern art. From works packed with drama and emotion in the Romantic period to the abstract canvases of the 1960s, and the land artists, who used the physical landscape to create works of art. The exhibition Over the horizon shows how the portrayal of landscapes has changed over the last two centuries, and how these changes exemplify notions of art and the representation of reality in a particular era.
During the Romantic period, menacing skies or sunny meadows provided a setting for religious, nationalistic or mythological depictions, with the atmosphere of the landscape reflecting the scene portrayed on the canvas. The Hague-born artist Wijnand Nuijen for instance used extremely dark blues and purples to lend power to his dramatic seascapes. Besides showcasing famous nineteenth-century Dutch painters like Nuijen and Jongkind, Over the horizon also includes work by their French and English contemporaries Louis Eugène Isabey and Richard Bonnington. The exhibition is to some extent chronological, tracing a line from the Romantic era to the Impressionism of Monet, as represented by Quai du Louvre, in which the city is depicted as a landscape with a horizon and cloudy skies, without focus on details or events.
Yet Over the horizon also creates interesting juxtapositions, by contrasting works of art from different periods: the 19th-century painter J.H. Weissenbruch is for example hung alongside the modern artist Jan Andriesse.
In the early twentieth century, Piet Mondrian painted a number of sun-drenched luminist dunescapes, experimenting with ways of depicting light, both above the horizon and reflected in the sea. Artists like René Daniëls and J.C.J. Vanderheyden take a more conceptual approach to landscapes, which they tend to interpret in terms of "space." Take Vanderheyden’s two semicircular depictions of the sky and the sun, which create an exhilarating image of boundless space. Richard Long literally integrated the landscape in a work of art, by creating an installation of hundreds of sticks to be arranged on a floor. The landscape is thus at one and the same time origin and part of this piece — which was specially created for the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.
It is through this mix of styles that we make the stirring journey from Romantic painting via Impressionism and abstract art to conceptual art, and this idiosyncratic approach gives the exhibition its unusual diversity and power. Thus the theme of Over the horizon is a multilayered one: literally, it concerns the grandeur of landscapes in art, while conceptually, it has to do with the way in which a landscape — or rather physical reality — is distorted or manipulated so as to skew the viewer’s perception of reality. The exhibition also shows some of the museum’s latest acquisitions.