When Frits Thaulow (1847–1906) first arrived in France in 1892, he discovered that he lacked enthusiasm for painting in the urban landscape of its capital, so he and his growing family moved to Montreuil-sur-Mer, in the far north-east, just inland from Le Touquet, where they remained until 1894.
Thaulow soon returned to his studies of flowing rivers, for example in The Mills at Montreuil-sur-Mer, Normandy. This painting has been claimed to date from 1891, before the artist moved to Montreuil, but I think that its date reads 1894.
Although undated, I wonder if The Priest was painted during a summer around this time, in France. The meticulous detail in foliage, brickwork, and rooftiles blurs as it recedes into the background, much in the way that Bastien-Lepage’s did, but Thaulow’s single figure is kept well back.
In 1894, Thaulow travelled across northern Italy to Venice, stopping off to paint The Adige River at Verona (c 1894). This shows the five arches of the Ponte della Pietra. At the left is the Duomo of S. Maria Matricolare, and to the right the bastion of S. Giorgio stands proud against the horizon.
That year, Thaulow moved to Dieppe, where he and his wife became friends with the Australian Impressionist Charles Conder, and met the British artist and illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.
This was another opportunity for a river reflection, in From Dieppe, France, with the River Arques (1895). Although I believe this was painted on canvas, it is sketchier and looks as if it may have been completed en plein air.
Village on the Bank of a Stream (c 1897) is a view of the river running beside a small farm and hamlet in the countryside inland of Dieppe.
Monks on the Deck (1898) is one of his brilliant quick oil sketches which might lead you to think that Thaulow was just another follower of Impressionism. This shows two monks in white habits seated on the upper deck of a ship. The lifeboats, held in their davits, are shown very gesturally at the left.
Although there are several well-known Impressionist paintings of factory chimneys smoking in the countryside around Paris, Thaulow’s The Smoke from 1898 is very different – a scene which is overwhelmed by the smoke, with houses crammed up against the factory walls. His water surface is also grimy and its intricate reflections are replaced by visible brushstrokes.
Over this period, he did return to Norway, where he painted several views of the Akerselva river running through the centre of Oslo, including The Akerselven River in the Snow, which was probably made between 1897-1901. The detailed brickwork of the buildings is once again shown in the semi-turbulent water surface.
In the early twentieth century, Thaulow moved to Quimperlé in Brittany, then in 1903 to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.
Soon after settling at Beaulieu, he found form with the magnificent river surface and lighting of La Dordogne (1903), in which the precise detail of the foreground quickly yields to the more sketchy background.
Thaulow was an accomplished print-maker, and I think that this version of the Marble Steps (1903) in Venice is an aquatint. It shows the rather different approach which he used to represent the broken water surface and its reflections.
Although I have not found many examples, Thaulow appears to have been an accomplished pastellist too. Moonlight in Beaulieu (1904) is a hauntingly surreal pastel painting of the village that he was living in, on a clear moonlit night. Although relatively small, he has worked a lot of detail into the buildings and trees.
By the summer of 1905, Thaulow was driving a small car. He used it to spend some time with his family at La Panne, where he presumably painted this Small Town near La Panne (1905) in the August.
These remaining works of Thaulow are all undated, but their motifs appear to be in France and Belgium, and I can only presume that they were painted by him after 1892.
A Château in Normandy is another combination of rippled river and snow, this time set in the grounds of a French château, probably in the north-east of the country.
Towards the Pont Lovignon (Pont Fleuri) in Quimperlé is an unusual nocturne set in a village in Brittany not far from Jules Breton’s favourite resort of Concarneau, presumably when Thaulow was living there before 1903.
Low Water shows the old village of Rupelmonde in Belgium (not northern France as I had previously guessed incorrectly). This section of river is tidal, feeding the tidal mill at the far end, and Thaulow shows it here at full ebb tide. Remarkably, this mill and its surroundings are still standing today.
Frits Thaulow died in Volendam, in the Netherlands, on 5 November 1906, at the age of just 59.
He seems to have painted more views showing broken reflections on flowing rivers than any artist that I have encountered. But I am unable to convince myself that his sustained detail, in his finished works at least, is consistent with him being in the mainstream of Impressionism. Maybe he does stand on his own as a Naturalist landscape painter after all.
I am indebted to Paul, who lives in Rupelmonde, and not only identified the mill shown in the final painting, but sent me images of the mill since.