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Hans Thoma

* 1839 – † 1924

Lauterbrunnen Valley

Oil on canvas

Monogrammed and dated at bottom left: HTh 1904

One of the earliest views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Oberland is that painted by Christian Georg Schütz the Elder in 1762.1 From then on, it was to crop up frequently in painting, including in the works of Josef Anton Koch, to name just one of the better known examples.2 With its seventytwo waterfalls, the valley provided such an abundance of motifs that the arduous journey there was felt to be more than worthwhile. In the year of this magnificent mountain panorama, Hans Thoma was invited to accompany Frederick I, Grand Duke of Baden, and his consort Louise on a journey to Switzerland. The geographer Georg Gerland3 was also included in the party in order to fill them in on the geological history of the region. The grand duke was a great admirer of Thoma’s work and had already appointed him director of the Kunsthalle and professor of landscape painting at the Karlsruhe academy. In his memoirs, Thoma wrote of the powerful impression made on him by the unusual geography of the valley: “There lies the Lauterbrunnen Valley as if it had wanted to demonstrate the evolutionary history of the earth’s crust.”4 The journey to Switzerland inspired him to paint three paintings, which as the “Thoma Wall with Three Alpine Landscapes” were still on show in the top-lit gallery of the Badi - scher Kunstverein as late as 1904.5 The artist selected as his vantage point a viewing platform on the Schynige Platte, which affords panoramic views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. This particular landscape view is unusual for Thoma, however, inasmuch as here he dispenses with all figural staffage and does not succumb to the temptation to aim for photographic verisimilitude. His emphatic linear structures and subdued palette instead generate abstraction, even while translating a highly complex geographical situation into a visual experience. Thoma’s work towards the turn of the century evinces a tendency to simplified and compressed representations of nature, in which influences typical of the times, especially those emanating from the Verband der Kunstfreunde in den Ländern am Rhein, are clearly apparent.6 Together with another monumental Alpine panorama, Auf dem Mt. Pilatus,7 the Lauterbrunnental is almost unparalleled in his entire oeuvre. A comparable level of abstraction is to be found in almost no other work of his – not even in those that came later. Despite his intensive encounters with Courbet and the Leibl Circle, to which he belonged for a while, Thoma remained a Romantic at heart, all the more so since for him, landscapes were also a vehicle for expressing deeply felt religious sentiment.

  1. Christian Georg Schütz the Elder, Das Lauterbrunnental (1762; Historisches Museum Frankfurt a. M.).

  2. Joseph Anton Koch Schmadribachfall (1821/1822; Neue Pinakothek Munich, inv. no. WAF449).

  3. Georg Cornelius Karl Gerland (1833 Kassel–1919 Strasbourg).

  4. Thoma, Hans, Im Winter des Lebens, Jena 1919, pp. 114, 123.

  5. Cf. the photograph in Bilder im Zirkel – 175 Jahre Badischer Kunstverein, Badischer Kunstverein Karlsruhe 1993, p. 249.

  6. The Verband was active as an organizer of exhibitions in the years 1900–1922.

  7. Lauts, Jan and Zimmermann, Werner, Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. Katalog Neuere Meister, Karlsruhe 1971, inv. no. 1044.

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