Into the Light. The Liberation of Nature

Curated by Florian Illies


Clouds, waves, wind and light – from 1820 onwards, painters captured the ephemerality of nature by means of the new technique of the oil study. The most important artists of the Düsseldorf School of Painting, and also Caspar David Friedrich and Camille Corot used fast-drying paints to realise their experience of nature directly in situ.


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For the first time in Germany, an exhibition is dedicated to the oil study as one of the most pivotal revolutions in form in 19th-century art. Showing a wealth of works from private and museum collections that have never been shown to the public, the exhibition illuminates artists’ appreciative gaze on nature in the Romantic period.

An unusual aspect is that the oil studies were used by the artists for private purposes only and were never exhibited. It wasn’t until two hundred years later that, owing to new viewing habits, they came to be appreciated as works of art in their own right – and, at that, often to an even greater extent than the finished studio paintings for which the painters were renowned. Nevertheless, the oil studies were not only revolutionary in terms of form, but also as regards their content. They offered a fresh perspective on nature. All of a sudden, the incidental became worthy of depiction: the play of light and shadow, wayside trees, grasses swaying in the wind, bubbling brooks. With the studies, the artists created a stockpile of motifs from which they drew inspiration throughout their artistic career. And this is precisely the power they reveal to the viewer today.

The exhibition comprises around 170 works by 75 artists.

Curator of the exhibition is art historian and author Florian Illies, alongside co-curator Anna Christina Schütz, Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.

The Museum Behnhaus Drägerhaus, Lübeck, will be presenting the exhibition from 14 July to 15 October 2023.


Carl Robert Kummer 
Abendstimmung an der Elbe, o. J.
Öl auf Leinwand auf Karton, 19 x 31,5 cm