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Italian Landscape

Johann Köler Italian Landscape 1861 oil, canvas 39 × 58 cm

This work was painted at the end of 1861 in Olevano, about fifty kilometres away from Rome. Olevano was a particularly beloved place for painting among painters at that time. By today, hundreds of paintings that have been completed in Olevano are known and artists continue to stream to that town.

Johann Köler already lived in Italy starting from the end of 1858, and starting in October of 1859, he worked in Olevano. According to Mai Levin, the primary researcher of Köler, it was precisely in Italy that Köler discovered the appeal of working in nature. Köler himself has also said that after visiting the Salon in Paris, ‘the wish to copy some kinds of paintings did not occur to me then or later because I found that nature is the best teacher’. Köler painted this view in the light of midday, and for this reason the side of the mountain shines brightly at the heart of the picture. A particular kind of effect emerges resembling the wings of a theatre stage: dark tree trunks on both sides at the edges of the picture like curtains drawn to the sides, with a brightly shining cliff in the middle, as if in the light of theatre spotlights. Shadows are scant and sharp, yet Köler has achieved distinctive virtuosity in depicting various textures: rocks, leaves, trees, the clothing of a working farmer. Although he was still academic, Köler was able to refresh the canon, combining in his Italian landscapes brilliant craftsmanship skills in realism and the motif of emotional familiarisation. Of course, this familiarisation is dramatic: Köler not only records nature and the feelings it has generated, rather his wish is to feature the vast scale of nature, its majesty, and its theatricality, which generates strong emotional reactions. Man has been reduced to an inconsequential painterly detail that has nothing to add to nature. At the same time, Köler does not become sacral, keeping the entire motif comprehensible and observable with its realistic narrative of form.