art history


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     In the American wing of the Allentown art museum is a small painting that hits really close to home. It is called the View on the Lehigh River above Mauch Chunk. This is a genre scene that shows a small homestead in the foreground of a landscape of the Lehigh River. It was painted in 1862. View on the Lehigh River shows what life may have been like living along the Lehigh during that time. Critics have said his work “looks as European as it does American”
(Gstavus1).
     Down the hall in the European wing a painting by Aert van der Neer called River
Landscape by Moonlight. It is a small dark painting that is so faint in contrasting colors that the viewer must get very close to it and squint in order to make out all of the objects in the scene. As the title suggests the painting depicts a river landscape, not common for the time. However, in his depiction the river is only visible as the light from the moon is reflecting off of it. The painting is undated, as are most of his works. It’s estimated that van der Neer was born between 1603 and 1604 and it is known that he died in 1677. Analyzing and comparing the two pieces, the viewer can recognize many similarities with in the two. The differences are evidently due to the amount of time that had elapsed between when the two painting were completed.
      When the viewer approaches River Landscape by Moonlight by a Dutch artist during the Baroque period, the first impression is made by the artist’s use of light. It is not uncommon to wonder where the faint light is coming from. A closer inspection will reveal that it is the moon peaking out of the cloud filled sky. The moonbeam’s shimmering light directs the viewer down the river, the reflection silhouettes two late night fishermen in the foreground. The river
appears to be the brightest as it fades into the horizon underneath by the moon giving the painting great depth. The rivers contours are outlining by the moonlight reflecting off the water, illuminating the river banks ever so faintly. Moving into the shadows on the near bank of the river is a small house; its window pane catches the moonlight and sends it to the viewer. The space hidden in the shadows that contain the house and the wooden are behind it have

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and equal mass to the areas that is illuminated by the moonlight giving the painting a feeling of balance. The artist often used oil pant on wood panel or canvas for his works. He also chose to use a monochrome palette incorporating only black, blue, and white on an ochre ground. The viewer can see that he often used the back of his paint brush or finger in order to remove dark colors this enables the artist to reveal the lighter colors underneath. He became well known
for his nocturnal landscapes. It is said that “he worked from inside his studio and that many of landscapes he created can’t be retraced to any particular place” (Aert1).
     It’s believed that Aert van der Neer didn’t start painting until the late 1630’s; at which time it is estimated that he was in his late twenties. According to the National Gallery of Art “he first painted winter scenes, partly under the influence of Hendrick Avercamp”(Aert1). His earliest work is dated 1632 however, the most accomplished of his works date from 1645-60. There are only a few of his works that are dated after 1650. In 1658 he and his sons were the keepers of a tavern; he then declared bankruptcy in 1662. At that time his paintings and other belongings appraised for very little. As told by the Wallace Collection he painted until “he died in poverty in Amsterdam on 9 November 1677” (Arnout 2)
     When a viewer stops to consider View on the Lehigh River above Mauch Chunk by
Gustavus Johann Grunewald, they are swept back in time, to a time and place where nature was a powerful force, which left a man feeling inferior and vulnerable. The scene depicts an afternoon in the life of the early European settlers to the Lehigh River Valley. The eye rolls down the mountainside in the left foreground to the doorway of the home at the base of the mountain, where the figure of a woman appears. If the viewer follows her gaze down the pathway from her house you will run into a man, perhaps her husband, riding his mule back to the home. As the eye continues down the path towards the river’s edge it is discovered that there are more dwellings. This space is emphasized, as it is filled with light emanating down the river valley behind the hillside in the left foreground. This is the only glimpse of the river the viewer gets. However if you follow the implied lines of the rolling mountains you can see an outline of exactly where the river continues to flow. Continuing on in a circular motion up the far mountainside to its peak, it meets a dramatic sky above. Grunewald uses dramatic lighting effects to create a sky that is filled with emotion. He also uses a full palette of color throughout the entire landscape, yet, maintains a realistic perspective.
     Grunewald worked in America from 1831-1868; he was born in Gnadau, Germany. He
settled in Bethlehem, and became a part of the Moravian community, two years after his arrival in Philadelphia in 1831. He was an instructor at Moravian the Seminary for young ladies during the time he spent in Bethlehem. According to Ask Art “he also taught privately and drew needle work designs to obtain extra income”(Gustavus 2). He sold his paintings in Philadelphia and New York. Before immigrating to the United States he studied at the Dresden Art Academy from 1820-1823 with Casper David Friedrich. Ask Art also explains that Grunewald “after service in the army, in 1830, studied with Gottfried Wilhelm Volcker in Berlin”(Gustavus 1). Volcker taught at the Berlin Academy and administered at the royal porcelain factory. In 1865 he traveled to Europe, and he died at the Moravian colony of Gnadenburg in 1868.
     Given the fact that these two paintings were completed 200 years apart from each other they share several common characteristics. Both of the paintings have strong nature theme that may come across to the viewer as spiritual. As well as the fact that they both employ the same medium, oil paint on a wood panel. Both artists mange to manipulate the light within the pieces in order to create inexplicable emotions, mostly capturing their reactions to their environment. The major differences within the two works are in the flow and the movement of the viewer’s eye. The viewer almost has to tiptoe through River landscape by moonlight in order to catch the intricate details of the figures within the painting. While looking at View on the River above Mauch Chuck the energy of the figures is enough to propel the eye through the landscape with their same enthusiasm. The time of day that is captured has profound effect on the viewer. The nocturne has sleepy, sedate feel to it. While the other painting captures the productivity of the settlement under midday sun.
     The two paintings depict a time and place that has been lost to us in today’s society. The viewer may never know fell expressiveness of both of the works. All that remains is a window the peers into the culture of a society lost to modern technologies. The techniques employed by the artists is were considered innovative for their time period, however they are appreciated today only for their craftsmanship. Most of the information pertaining these particular artists is vague or unknown to researchers. Little information is presented as fact. The two paintings have that ability to leave the viewer longing for more information that will allow them fell a deeper sense of empathy and understanding within the paintings.


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