When I say Mother Nature, I mean her more dangerous side.
Johan Christian Dahl was a romantic painter, but this painting is anything but (if you’re using the more common definition of romantic). Romantic painters focused on emotion and the senses, and the more famous ones often painted scenes depicting the relationship with nature and life. This is what we are seeing in this painting, An Eruption of Vesuvius. The vivid colors uses for the lava and magma overpower the dark background, only to be lightened up going up to the sunset sky. There is a polar opposite on each side of the painting, making the contradictions even more clear.
What really caught my eye in this painting is how vivid the reds and oranges are, especially in comparison to everything else. Getting in close to those details was fascinating. The embers floating in the air among the smoke gives the piece a slow motion movement of something that would have been moving much quicker. The use of yellow in the lava and flames indicate just how hot the substance is, and would have been as if you’d been standing right next to it. The smoke billows out as the intensity thickens. This is a rather violent scene from mother nature, but it’s not the only scene.
To make it short, there is a percentage of this painting that is just dark against the rest. I wanted to address this section of the painting because of the stark difference it has from the sky. When you look below the eruption, you see dark, dark rocks and earth against a bright sky.
These are some of the brightest rocks in the painting, and even these are not that bright. Under the sky and eruption is a dark and dank formation of rock and mountain. It swallows up the bottom half of the piece, with only the lava cutting through the darkness. I personally really liked the combination of opposites in the same piece, and having them flow beautifully. Symbolically, it feels like the danger of the eruptions so close to civilization gives way to the brighter heavens above, there is still hope in this painting that the eruptions will not make it all the way off the mountains and into the village below. The men in this section of the piece seem to be making sure of that, monitoring the flow patterns.
The sky on the right is one of my favorite things about this painting. Throughout the piece you see darkness, danger, maybe even some boredom from those that are standing around among the lava. That look of boredom indicates to me that this may be a common occurrence, I am not familiar with volcano eruption statistics so I can’t say for sure. I do think it’s weird they look bored. How can you be bored?
However, I love that behind this dark scene is a much brighter one. A beautiful sunset over a harbor, with the light from the sky coming down on everything surrounding it. You can see the foliage and houses far away, hopefully safe from Vesuvius. The blue light makes the town seem much farther away, while simultaneously giving a peaceful feeling for those below the mountains. The yellow in the sky still ties in with the eruption, just more subtly. The colors bring everything together into one cohesive piece, regardless of the different elements that were brought in.
One of the more fulfilling things about walking around museums is finding pieces like this that give so many different types of emotions, while also tying them together. The romantics really knew what they were doing.