Plein air art history - Alexandre Calame
Alexandre Calame, "Swiss Landscape," c. 1830, oil on paper on canvas, 15 3/4 x 20 1/2 in., National Gallery of Art, Gift of Victoria and Roger Sant

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A devout Calvinist, Alexandre Calame (Swiss, 1810–1864) saw the large-scale, dramatic Alpine scenes he was known for as expressions of the divine. At their core, however, the paintings demonstrate the artist’s deep natural connection to the land.

As a committed member of the Düsseldorf school of painting, Calame advocated working en plein air. At his death, nearly 600 small paintings and studies never meant for public view were found in the artist’s studio. Among them, “Swiss Landscape” (shown above).

In this piece, Calame eschews the scenes of snow-capped peaks that dominate his oeuvre in favor of a quieter view of the landscape. Rather than forbidding and awe-inspiring, the effect is warm and inviting. A group of harvesters toil among the fields — a neat patchwork of greens and golds. The mountains and lake have been simplified into shapes of color, echoing the geometry of the landscape. Here, the artist does not celebrate the power
of nature, but rather its quiet, subtle beauty bathed in a gentle light.

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