Francis Danby

Liensfiord, Norway: Calm


Not on display

Francis Danby 1793–1861
Oil paint on poplar
Support: 411 × 542 mm
frame: 564 × 692 × 110 mm
Purchased 1985

Display caption

Danby visited Norway in 1825 but seems not to have painted any Norwegian subjects in oil until after he moved to Switzerland in 1831. By that time his memory of place names appears to have let him down since no such place as Liensfiord, the name inscribed on the back of this picture, exists: it has been suggested that Lifjord near Rutledal is intended. Danby, who had abandoned the quiet poetry of his Bristol days, was disappointed by the lack of 'Grandure' he found in the Norwegian landscape, though he admitted that it was 'wild enough. These kind of scenes are better in pictures than reality'.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Francis Danby 1793-1861

T04104 Liensfiord, Norway: Calm c.1835

Oil on poplar 411 x 542 (16 1/8 x 21 3/8); a strip of about 3 mm (1/8 in) has been left unpainted along the bottom
Inscribed 'F. Danby.' b.l., and 'Liens Fiord Norway', possibly by the artist, on baton reinforcing back of panel
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Prov: ...; Swiss private collector, sold Sotheby's 21 Nov. 1984 (71 as 'A lake in Norway, possibly Fensfiord, near Bergen', repr. in col. before cleaning) bt Anthony Dallas and Sons, from whom bt by Tate Gallery
Repr: Tate Gallery Report 198 4-6, 1986, p.57 (col.)

This is a smaller version of the painting now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1841 (527) as 'Liensfiord Lake, in Norway; a sudden storm, called a flanger, passing off - an effect which on their lonely lakes occurs nearly every day in autumn' (Eric Adams, Francis Danby: Varieties of Poetic Landscape, 1973, p.179 no.48, pl.67). Unlike the larger version, that in the Tate shows a calm scene, though a storm is blowing up in the sky. What may be a related drawing is that referred to in a letter from the artist to John Gibbons of 19 May 1831 (Francis Greenacre, The Bristol School of Artists, exh. cat., City Art Gallery, Bristol 1973, p.89) asking him to sell a drawing of 'Approach of a Storm on Liensfiord in Norway' for him for £3.

Danby visited Norway for two months in 1825, travelling with Samuel Jackson and George Cumberland Jnr. It has been suggested he may have been there again in 1840 but there is no evidence for this. However, despite his first-hand knowledge of the country, his letter to Gibbons of 1831, the 1841 Royal Academy title, and the inscription, at least possibly in his hand, on the back of the Tate Gallery painting, there does not seem to be such a place as Liensfjord. Moreover the title of the 1841 exhibit seems to confuse a salt water fjord and a fresh water lake. Adams suggests a mistake for Fensfjord but Dr E.H. Schiötz (in correspondence with the Victoria and Albert Museum, kindly communicated by Ron Parkinson) prefers the Lifjord, near Rutledal, which is near other locations known to have been visited by Danby, or, less likely, the Loen Lake, between Bergen and Ålesund.

Stylistically the Tate Gallery's painting belongs among the works Danby painted during his sojourn in Switzerland, where he lived, in Geneva, from 1831 until 1836. As he wrote to Gibbons on 25 October 1832, defending his lack of interest in the Alps, Norway 'was the country of Ossian, the most picturesque in the world' (Greenacre 1973, p.89). In 1835 another Norwegian view by Danby was lent by J. Audéoud of Geneva to the Musée Rath (49) as 'Vue d'un lac en Norwège, avant que le soeil ait dissipé les vapeurs du matin', when it was singled out in a favourable review in Le Fédéral (quoted by Adams 1973, p.95). At the time of the Sotheby's sale in 1984 it was thought that this picture and that acquired by the Tate were the same; however, what is presumably the painting exhibited in 1835 was included in a catalogue of the collection of James Audéoud 'de Genève', dated 1847 although published in 1848, with a description that rules out this identification: 19. - paysage en Norwège.

Au centre du tableau deux grands rochers, couverts d'arbres et d'habitations de pechêurs, s'avançent au milieu d'un lac dont les bords viennent mourrir sur le premier plan au milieu des roseaux et de la végétation. Un canot sur la grêve, prêt à partir, des pêcheurs qui s'en approchent, un oiseau aquatique qui s'éloigne, sont les seules figures qui l'animent. Le soeil n'a pas encore dissipé les vapeurs du matin, et tous les objets sont fortement imprégnés d'eau, ce qui leur donne une teinte locale, blue verdâtre, très-fine, mais très-humide. Son fine précieux, la transparence des eaux , la douceur de son effet, en font une des peintures les plus agréables de cet artiste célèbre.

The size, given as 'larg. 1p. 9p., haut. 1p. 4p.' corresponds, if one assumes that the Swiss measurements of pieds and pouces are equivalent to English feet and inches, to the Tate Gallery picture, but the description rules it out. A picture sold from the collection of the painter Alfred Du Mont at the Palais Eynard, Geneva, on 22 April 1895 (11) as 'lac de Norvège' may have been one or other of these two works. (The compiler is indebted for the information in this paragraph to Madame Renée Loche of the Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva.)

The Tate Gallery's painting is executed over a fairly free and sketchy pencil outline drawing, which the painted forms follow closely but not rigidly, confirming the autograph quality of the painting. Whether it preceded or followed the Victoria and Albert Museum painting, with its contrasted stormy mood, is unclear. Both were presumably based on sketches made on the spot, such as that referred to in the letter to Gibbons of 1831; on 15 July 1837 Danby wrote to Gibbons that he had 'many sketches in Norway, North Wales, Devonshire, Ireland and Switzerland' (Greenacre 1973, p.89). The style of the decoration of the frame of the Tate Gallery picture confirms its Swiss origins.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.64-5


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