Under the moody surface

Coast of Capri, the only painting by Johan Christian Dahl exhibited by Carnegie Museum of Art seems out of place among paintings advocating grandeur and sublimity. The painting purveys mystic and meditative, as if there is an unknown force behind the scene that even its thoroughness goes beyond grand and sublime.

There is no wonder that Johan Christian Dahl always reminds me of Casper David Frederick. The two men once lived in the same house and exhibited together. Yet the Norwegian painter is more reticent in his words. Unlike Frederick, whose landscape paintings are disguise forms for life voyage and moral advancing, Dahl didn’t bring such austerity above the moody oil surface; instead he dug it into the landscape and let the viewer discover the deep intention that he planted.


While the life of Casper David Frederick has been studied thoroughly, Dahl, who is usually called Casper’s follower, didn’t receive enough attention nowadays. In the description note provided by Carnegie Museum of Art, it is said that Coast of Capri was the work following Dahl two-year’s stay in Italy. However, another source from Sotheby’s states that Dahl got married in June of 1820 and the very next day he left alone to Italy where he remained one year. Thus the two sources disagreed with how long Dahl stayed in Italy. The exact length of his stay in Italy is of great importance here because Dahl’s several most famous paintings were about scenes in Italy.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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