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Monday, June 30th, 2014

“A Dialogue with Nature” at the Morgan Library


Karl Friedrich Lessing (1808-1880), Landscape with a cemetery and a church, 1837. Ink wash, watercolor and graphite with cut and adhered paper correction, on brown wove paper, 291 x 447 mm. Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum.

Karl Friedrich Lessing (1808-1880), Landscape with a cemetery and a church, 1837. Ink wash, watercolor and graphite with cut and adhered paper correction, on brown wove paper, 291 x 447 mm. Courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum.

I’m suspicious of my own love for Romanticism. The unabashed expression of feeling can be kind of embarrassing. Nonetheless, the emotive power of many artists working in the late 18th and 19th centuries is unrivaled to this day and it’s pretty easy for me to get all gushy about them. Now on view at the Morgan Library, “A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany” illuminates the ambition of those artists, though on a small scale. The show features 37 diminutive works by Caspar David Friedrich, JMW Turner, John Constable, Samuel Palmer and four of their contemporaries from Germany and the UK — they’re something of an apotheosis of virtue in representational art of that era. Constable’s 1824 Cloud Study is the most meditative and abstract work on view. Friedrich’s drawing Jakobikirche in Greifswald as a Ruin (1815) is handsome, but neither it nor any of his other works there adequately captures his aptitude for psychological or perceptual magic. Carl Friedrich Lessing’s ink and watercolor drawing, Landscape with a Cemetery and a Church (1837), is creepy and evocative, with a perfectly decrepit Romantic tree dappling moonlight cast over headstones. And Turner’s atmospheric watercolors are jewels in what is already a very impressive collection. Although I may be conflicted about my feelings for Romanticism, I am certain that “A Dialogue with Nature” is well worth seeing. The exhibition is mounted in collaboration with Britain’s Courtauld Gallery, and a wonderful catalogue accompanies the show, featuring essays by Rachel Sloan and Matthew Hargraves.


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