Nature as Art

The landscape in 19th–century paintings and photographs from the Christoph Heilmann Foundation and the Münchner Stadtmuseum

Nature as Art

After a two-year tour of Germany, the Christoph Heilmann Foundation’s collection returns to the Lenbachhaus for an exhibition scheduled to open in March 2019. Presenting the paintings of the Heilmann collection in an unusual “summit conference” together with photographs from the Münchner Stadtmuseum, "Nature as Art" will unfold a constructive dialogue between two of the nineteenth century’s most innovative pictorial media: the free-hand oil sketch and precise nature photography. Each in its own way revolutionized the visual representation of the landscape.

The nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of new motifs, new techniques, and new working conditions that transformed the representation of nature. Landscape painters and, a little later, their photographer colleagues left their studios to travel and traded the mental space of the imagination for the experience of the great outdoors. How did they see, paint, and photograph nature? Landscape painters and photographers wandered off the established itineraries to seek out remote locales. They studied the weather and the rich variety of meteorological phenomena and scrutinized unusual geological manifestations. Some still traveled south for scenic settings, but others now found appealing motifs in the wild and rugged nature of their native north. They turned their attention to utterly unspectacular sights and discerned a different kind of beauty in weathered rocks and the play of light and shadows.

Advances in the scientific study of nature went hand in hand with the flourishing of an artistic genre that made a radical break with the classical landscape tradition and augured the dawn of modernism in painting and photography. Painters such as Giacomo Caneva and August Kotzsch, most of them with academic training, now set up their cameras in coppices, on meadows, or by brooks and rivers to capture ephemeral natural impressions in realistic images. After 1855, these photographic nature studies became a staple of artists’ ateliers. Like oil sketches created on the scene, extensive collections of photographic studies of trees, clouds, or animals served painters as memory aids or a corrective to their artistic perceptions.

The culmination of a series of presentations—the exhibition was previously on view at Museum Schloss Moyland near Kleve and at the Angermuseum, Erfurt—the Munich show features a substantially enlarged landscape painting section with newly acquired works from the Christoph Heilmann Foundation. Landscapes and oil sketches by Carl Rottmann, Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, Johan Christian Dahl, Théodore Rousseau, Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot, Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, and others beckon with spectacular and novel perspectives on and insights into nature. Photographic incunabula by Georg Maria Eckert, Gustav Völkerling, Gustave Le Gray, and Constant Alexandre Famin, meanwhile, bring the early day of landscape photography to life.

The exhibition is curated by Christoph Heilmann, collector and founder of the foundation in his name, and Ulrich Pohlmann, Head of the Photography Collection at the Münchner Stadtmuseum.