Johan Christian Dahl

Portrait of J.C. Dahl

J.C. Dahl: (1788-1857) was a Danish-Norwegian artist. He is considered to be the first great romantic painter in Norway and the founder of the “golden age” of Norwegian painting. He was born in Bergen, Norway on 24th February 1788 and died in Dresden, Germany on 14th October 1857 aged 69.

Major Works

“Frederiksborg Castle” (1817)
“Vesuv i utbrudd” (1826)
“Vinter ved Sognefjorden” (1827)
“Castellammare” (1828)
“Skibbrudd ved den Norske Kyst” (1832)
“Fra Stedje i Sogn” (1836)
“Hellefoss” (1838)
“Stalheim” (1842)

Biography Timeline

Johan Christian Claussen Dahl, often known simply as J. C. Dahl, was born on 24th February 1788, in Bergen, Norway. His father was a fisherman in the town and the painter later regretted that he was not of higher birth. He was educated at Bergen Cathedral by an official who took an interest in him thinking he would make a good priest but then realised his artistic talents.

1803: He is sent to study with the painter Johan Georg Müller in his Bergen studio. Dahl complains he is being used for inferior work and his teacher doesn’t realise his potential. Another mentor, Lyder Sagen, realises his talent and show him his art books and awakens his interest in historical and landscape subjects. 

1809: He leaves Mullers studio. 

1811: Sagen makes it financially possible for Dahl to go to the Academy in Copenhagen to continue his studies under Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg who insists that nature should be studied from life.

1812: He tells Sagen that he most admires the landscapes of Ruisdahl and Everdingen and is studying nature himself in the local countryside. He visits the city’s art collections as often as he can. He exhibits at the annual art exhibitions in Copenhagen and is introduced to Sagen’s social connections in the city.

1815: A major breakthrough comes when he exhibits thirteen paintings at the annual exhibition and Prince Christian Frederik of Denmark undertakes to buy many of them for his royal collection. He becomes a lifelong friend and patron of the artist.

1816:  He is impressed by C. W. Eckersberg’s paintings of Roman settings and the two artists swap works and become good friends. He realises he wants to be a self-supporting artist but the academic establishment of the time does not rate landscapes as suitable subjects for painting.

1817: He creates “Den Store Kro i Fredensborgmarked” (Frederiksborg Castle) his first major oil painting.

1818: In September he travels to Dresden and draws the countryside around the area but still creates imaginary landscapes. 

1819: He paints “Norsk Fjellandskap Med Elv” (Mountainous Norwegian Landscape with River) which becomes popular with the new younger artists. 

1820: He settles permanently in Dresden and is introduced to several artists there including Caspar David Friedrich. Friedrich is fourteen years his senior and not known for his sociability but the two become friends. He is accepted into the Dresden Academy. He is courting Emilie von Bloch but when Prince Christian Frederik writes to him from Italy inviting him to join him at the Gulf of Naples he jumps at the chance. He marries Emilie and rushes off to Italy the next day where he will spend ten months. He is impressed by the southern light there.

1821: In February he visits Rome and goes to all the museums, meets other artists and paints canvases to sell. Although he paints local scenes, he continues to paint imaginary Norwegian landscapes. He is in Naples when Mount Vesuvius is active. In June he heads back to Emilie and Dresden and lives a quiet family life.

1822: He quickly establishes a reputation amongst the artistic and scientific community in Dresden and the archaeologist C.A. Bottiger publishes a major article on him in his journal “Artistisches Notizenblatt”.

1823: He and his family move in with Friedrich so that many of his students are influenced by both artists.

1824: He teaches at the Academy along with Friedrich, as “extraordinary professors”, without a chair but still receiving a regular salary. 

1826: He visits Norway for the first time since leaving and explores the Valdres valley.

1827:  His wife Emilie dies in childbirth with their fourth child. He paints “Vinter ved Sognefjorden.

1828: He writes to the Director of the Dresden Academy that he still sees himself a Nordic painter. He paints “Castellammare”.

1829: Two of his older children die of scarlet fever.

1830: In January he marries his student Amalie von Bassewitz, but she also dies in childbirth in December.

1834: He visits Norway and receives an enthusiastic welcome as a well-known painter. 

1838: He paints “Hellefoss”.

1839: He visits Norway. 

1842: He paints “Stalheim” and “Fra Fortundalen”

1844: In July he visits the towns of Øylo and Vang in Norway with his children and his pupil Peder Balke.

1849: He paints “Bjerk i Storm”.

1850: He makes his last trip to Norway due to his weakening health. He paints “Fjord at Sunset”.

1851: He paints “Stugunøset på Filefjell” and “Måbødalen”. During his lifetime he was awarded the Order of Vasa and the Order of St Olav by the King of Norway and Sweden and also the Order of Dannebrog from Denmark.

J.C. Dahl died on his own after a brief illness on 14th October 1857 in Dresden, Germany and was buried there. In 1934 his remains were taken to Norway and buried in the cemetery of Sankt Jakob Kirke (St. Jacob’s Church) in Bergen.