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This small oil sketch of Oetzthal, a mountain valley in the Austrian Alps, was painted by the Danish landscape artist, Vilhelm Petersen, when he was travelling to Italy in the summer of 1850. Close to the Italian border, the area is the site of some of Austria’s highest mountains. We are most likely looking south towards Italy, perhaps from a vantage point near the town of Oetz.
The sketch, which is painted on paper and was subsequently mounted on canvas, was almost certainly made quickly on the spot. In the foreground, Petersen has swiftly indicated the outlines of the nearest mountains and fir trees with pencil and washes of underpaint. He used subtle tones of lavender and a pale blue-grey for the far mountains to create an effect of distance and summer haze. As it is summer, there is only a little snow, which Petersen has painted with thin streaks of brilliant white.
This small oil sketch of Oetzthal in the Austrian Alps was painted by Vilhelm Petersen when he was travelling to Italy in the summer of 1850. A landscape painter who was part of the last generation of artists of the so-called Danish Golden Age, he studied under Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg and Johan Ludvig Lund at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. In 1848 he received a scholarship from the Academy to travel to Italy, but he had to postpone his journey for two years because of political unrest in Europe. When he was eventually able to leave Denmark, he travelled to Italy via the Netherlands, Germany and the Austrian Tyrol. He remained in Italy until 1852, producing some of his most notable paintings there.
The Oetzthal valley, south-east of Innsbruck and north of Trento, is around 40 miles long. Formed by the main chain of the Alps, it separates the Stubai Alps in the east from the Oetzthal Alps in the west and is bordered by some of Austria’s highest mountains. The southern end of the valley meets the Italian border, and in this painting we are most likely looking south towards Italy, perhaps from a vantage point near the town of Oetz.
Petersen was a prolific sketcher, both in Denmark, where he was particularly drawn to coastal towns, and on his travels through Europe. This sketch, painted on paper and subsequently mounted on canvas, was almost certainly made quite quickly on the spot, possibly with a view to producing a more finished painting at a later date. In the foreground, you can see where Petersen has swiftly indicated the outlines of the nearest mountains with pencil and washes of underpaint and has used zigzag lines for the fir trees. He has also noted the location and date. This lack of finish, particularly in the foreground, and the visible use of pencil were typical of the traditional technique for oil sketching, as artists sought to capture the principal forms and tones of a scene but without completing the painting. In this sketch, Petersen’s attention is mainly focused on the mountains in the background, and on the play of light and atmospheric effects of the clouds. An almost clear blue sky, which slightly lightens near the horizon, forms a backdrop to the mountain peaks, with just a line of low cloud on the right. Using subtle tones of lavender and a pale blue-grey for the far mountains, he created an effect of distance and summer haze. As it is summer, there is only a little snow, which he painted with thin streaks of brilliant white.
Petersen’s paintings have the clarity and technical skill of his teacher, Eckersberg, but also show the influence of French painting, particularly the naturalism and direct observation of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and the Barbizon artists, who often painted outdoors. The emphasis in this sketch on the mid and far distance over the foreground was also a feature of many of Corot’s sketches and studio paintings.
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