Frits Thaulow

Frits Thaulow
One of my favorite painters is a relatively unknown Norwegian painter and engraver named Frits Thaulow.

I only discovered Thaulow because the Philadelphia Museum of Art happens to have a stunning painting of his in their permanent collection called Water Mill. It is a large work (32 x 47 5/8 inches – 81.3 x 121 cm) that is strikingly beautiful both from across the gallery and up close. It has been one of my favorites in the museum, and a “must visit” when I’m there, for a long time (image above, bottom left). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a larger reproduction of this painting on the web to show you, but I have found some others.

Thaulow is another of those artists I favor who walk the line between realism and Impressionism. He is obviously influenced by the French (and perhaps Russian) impressionists, and displays their bright palette, plein air approach and fresh open brushwork, but never lets his canvasses dissolve into the blizzard of separate brushstrokes that became the hallmark of Impressionist technique.

Like Gustave Caillebotte, he works within the structure of realism. He was actually more strongly influenced by French realist art than Impressionism, in particular Jules Bastien-Lepage as well as Swedish painter Carl Skånberg. He originally intended to be a marine painter, and many of his early works are of the sea and shore, but he moved his subject matter inland and became a master of smaller bodies of water. He does the most wonderful paintings I have encountered of one of my favorite subjects, small streams and slow-moving rivers.

He is astonishingly skillful at portraying the complex relationships of gently swirling water as a reflective surface for sky and landscape. His water, particularly in the painting at the Philadelphia museum, is simultaneously reflective and translucent.

Thaulow’s use of color is at once brilliant and restrained, again as if he had gone to the brink of Impressionism and pulled back, and is wonderfully evocative of time of day, season and weather.

Prior to the expansion of the Internet in recent years, I had difficulty finding any information him, even in university libraries. There are a couple of books available through Amazon: Frits Thaulow: October 11-November 16, 1985 (exhibition catalog), Frits Thaulow: 10 November-6 December 1986, the Fine Art Society, London (exhibition catalog) and Frits Thaulow: 1847-1906 by Vidar Poulsson.

[Update: 30 October, 2010: I have since written two other posts about Thaulow, a post specifically about Water Mill in 2008 and a general update on Frits Thaulow in 2009 that has many more links and resources than listed here.]

52 Replies to “Frits Thaulow”

  1. Nice pick!

    I came across Thaulow during the visual research I was doing for my piece about Albert Edelfelt. (Google tip: He’s sometimes known as Johan Frederik Thaulow)

    His handling of the surfaces of water is always masterful. It’s hard to find a picture by Thaulow that doesn’t have water running through it!

    One picture of his (that doesn’t contain water as its main subject) gets me right here every time I look at it.
    It’s among your links at:

  2. Hi,
    I appreciate your information on Frits Thaulow. I have a very small painting from my dad that appears to be a Frits Thaulow. Framed, it measures about 4 x 6 inches–very small, almost postcard size. It is a painting and not a postcard, however. It is a view of Holland, with a road going off into the horizon and a windmill, with a row of poplar trees alongside. Foreground is a marshy pond. The composition is decidedly Thaulow, as is the technique. I’ve looked through all the web posting with pictures of his paintings and there is none of this, so I don’t think it’s a copy. How do I find out about it? It’s lovely. Thank you for your help.
    C.Berglie (I’m Norwegian and my grandfather was a painter; he is the one who acquired this painting.)

  3. Carole,

    That sounds like a wonderful gift from your dad.

    The only thing I can suggest is to contact the curator of paintings at a local museum, explain your situation and see if they can either help or recommend someone who can.

  4. I just returned from Chicago, where I “discovered” Thaulow at the Art Institute; their one oil painting of his on display [an icy river] simply knocked me out. Your website is just great….I’d never read of him or seen his work; now I’ll have to find him wherever I go.

  5. I also first came across the Water Mill at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was the first painting that really grabbed my attention. It was the highlight of my visit to the museum.

  6. The Thaulow painting Water Mill – I just saw it at the Philadelphia Museum and fell in love with it. I would love to have a copy – do you have any suggestion on how to get a reproduction?

  7. There is a new book out on him: “Frits Thaulow. En internasjonal maler” (An international painter). It was written by myself, a Norwegian art historian, to accompany an exhibition of 60 paintings at the Lillehammer Art Museum in Norway this summer. It is in the Norwegian language only. The book contains 184 pages, all the works are illustrated in colour, and there are an introduction, documents and an up-to-date chronology. I do not have any time myself to reply to questions from private individuals, sorry. For the time being, the book has to be considered the standard work on the painter. It has been published by Labyrinth Press, Odins gate 32, 0260 Oslo, Norway. The price during the exhibition was 390, but I do not know what the publisher will charge after the exhibition, which ended on the 10th September 2006. I think it can be ordered through him or through one of the main Norwegian booksellers. The following numbers do apply: ISBN-13: 978-82-7393-034-7 and ISBN-10: 82-7393-034-3.
    I am pleased that Charley Parker and the writers in the blog like this painter, but I do not think that I want to comment any further about his style. However, I am pleased that the Water Mill at the Philadelphia Museum of Art has caught the attention and that it seems to be permanently on view. The work at the Art Institute in Chicago is a pastel, which they acquired recently. It is also very good. However, beware of cheap work on sale in the U.S.A., there is a superabundance of fakes on the market.
    The “Link” to websites purporting to give information on Thaulow is not any good and these references should be avoided. I was the author of the books from 1985 (New York) and 1986 (London) mentioned, but twenty years have passed, and my research has progressed much further, so the real value of these books consist of the good colour reproductions only.

  8. Michele,

    There are Thalow prints available in places, but I haven’t seen one for Water Mill. I did not see one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art when I last looked. However, I do know that the museum permits non-flash photography of works in their permanent collection. (I’ve intended to photograph Water Mill for some time, just haven’t gotten to it.)

  9. Charley,
    The Watermill was part of the John G. Johnson Collection. The W. R. Valentiner catalogue of 1914 does not give further particulars of provenance.The subject is, however, from the “petits moulins” by the Canche river at Montreuil-sur-Mer in the Pas-de-Calais department in France. The artist painted there from September until November 1892. Postcards from these mills are usually offered at the Delcampe netsite for postcards. One goes to and seeks France – Ile de France – Montreuil and then combines “Montreuil” and “moulins” to find examples. I do not like modern Thaulow reproductions, such as “giclee prints”. Those are usually pilfered from auction reproductions available on the internet, mainly from Christies and Sothebys auctions. I do not think that the Philadelphia Museum of Art has authorized any reproduction of “Water Mill”, unless they have issued a reproduction themselves.

  10. Vidar,

    Thanks again for your input and expertise. I started a brief look through the postcards, but have not gotten far enough to find anything positive.

    If I have a chance to get the the Philadelphia Museum in the near future I’ll inquire about reproductions.

  11. I went to university in Philadelphia and took many trips to the Museum of Art just to sit in front of the Water Mill painting. It was well worth the trip every time. I always begin and end any visit to that museum with that painting.

    I’ve been looking for a reproduction for years; I haven’t found one yet. I will forever be on the lookout!

    It’s encouraging to hear from so many enthusiasts of Thaulow’s work!

  12. Bonjour
    Je possede une trés jolie huile sur toile non signée mais titrée au dos effet de neige et attribuée a Frittes Thaulow
    J’aimerais prendre contact avec Mr Vidar Poulsson pour avoir son avis
    Voici mon email en France

  13. Saw my first Fritz Thaulow work at the Philadelphia Museum, the “Water Mill”, while there to view the recent Antonio Mancini show. What a tremendous “bit of icing” to see Mancini, come out of the gallery and get floored by Thaulow’s magnificent painting. Had to find out as much and see as much as I could about him. Beautiful beautiful natural work!!

  14. i read that frits died in ohio. i have not seen any of his paintings from this late period in america. i will be glad for any info on this. thanks

  15. Well said Charley! Ironically, when attending another artist’s exhibition, (Antonio Mancini) I too “discovered” the painting , “the Water Mill” and was , as most who see it, completely blown away. I immediately called some friends of mine and said WHO IS THIS GUY?
    Turns out he is a well collected, respected, “landscape/plein-air” artist and not surprisingly has influenced quite a few of the present crop of outdoor painters. Great post, great taste Charley if I do say so myself!

  16. Hi Lynn, I was looking for info on a painting by my grandfather “Arvid Gornitska which was given to me by my father back in the 1980’s when I spotted your question. The painting I have is a scene from South Africa c.1906. Have you found out anything about Arvid? I never met him myself. What is your interest in him? Also, where did you hear of him. Thanks, Pam Yakubek

  17. Yes, I am sorry to report that the Philadelphia museum has taken down Water Mill. I was so disappointed to discover that on my visit this weekend. I’d promised my children the most stunning rendering of flowing water that they would ever see, and–Dad was a dud! There should be a campaign to get it put back up.

  18. Any suggestions for how to get a campaign going? I’m going to try and contact someone at the Museum. My e-mail is ___ if you want to help get something going.

    1. Thanks, Dottie. I’ve emailed the modern art department (apparently everything after 1900 is modern art) and asked if there is any provision for us to ask that a painting that has been put in storage be returned to view. I’ll let you know if I receive a reply.

      I’ve removed your email address so it’s not visible to email harvesting spam bots. Anyone else interested can leave comments here and I will relay directly if they request

  19. Hi Charley,
    I emailed a contact from the European Painting & Sculpture before 1900 Department and received a prompt reply from Jennifer Vanim, who said that “Water Mill” was one of her absolute favorites, would love to see it back in the galleries, and she will ask if there are plans to re-hang it this fall. She is involved with the John G. Johnson Collection.
    Thanks for your blog which has renewed all my interest in getting this painting back for public viewing.

  20. Maybe you can email Tom Alderson and any others who you think may be interested in pursuing this campaign. More emails or letters to the Museum wouldn’t hurt. Now I’m on a quest!

  21. It’s back! I visited the Philadelphia Art Museum on October 10, 2009, and like everyone else I was absolutely stunned by “the Water Mill”. I stood up close, I moved, eventually I just sat and stared. It is just so amazing. After returning home I had to know more about Fritz Thaulow and his work. What a wonderful surprise to find thhis site and discover how many people feel exactly the way I did.

  22. My girlfriend grew up near Philadelphia and is a big fan of “The Water Mill” so when we visited her dad’s for Thanksgiving, we made sure to check the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Web site to see if it was on display, and were thrilled to see that it was. We made the trek and it’s just as stunning as she and everyone says. I took my Canon 5D Mark II and took several shots — hopefully, they will make a nice print for a Christmas gift. 🙂

  23. I’ve just discovered Thaulow and am delighted to find this website. I would love to have some of his prints to frame but have not been able to find very many sources. Does anyone know of an online site with a wide variety of his prints?

  24. I just checked this blog today and am so happy to hear that Water Mill is back!
    Now that it’s back, I do wish that somehow a reproduction could be made–any ideas on how to get this done?

  25. Maybe you should change the post title lines and colors :: a blog about drawing, painting, illustration, comics, concept art and other visual arts » Frits Thaulow to more catching for your subject you write. I enjoyed the blog post still.

  26. Visited the PMA yesterday for the first time and was captivated by the Water Mill. Came home and started an internet search for reproductions of this fabulous piece and came to this website. Interesting to see how so many others have been captivated by this wonderful painting. I think the PMA could do well by marketing posters from this painting. Like others, now that I’ve been turned on to Thaulow, I’ve happily discovered what a wonderful artist he was.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I’m not sure if they realize how popular it is. They put it away for a while a couple of years ago, but brought it back, perhaps because of requests, I don’t know. (I know that I wrote and asked that if be brought back out, but I don’t know how many others did.)

  27. I have a print by ‘Thaulow’,and would like an idea of the name or location.
    It has a row of cottages which are thatched and an arched bridge where several animals are standing with a woman behind them. The first cottage has a woman standing at what looks like a gate, but there is a long pole extending from her roof to the gate. The roof looks like it is being thatched. It looks like the mid or latter 1800’s.

  28. Hello,
    I also have a reproduction print done in Germany that I aquired in Ohio at a sale. I have not been able to find the original painting on any sites or galleries , although the scene seems to be common of his paintings this particular one is not out there . I was told that it is old and a reproduction stamped on back printed in Germany. I also am trying to find the name of the painting and possibly to sell it. any info would be great can email photos of it I took it out of the original old frame that used tons of those little nails.

    1. Try looking through auction results (from several auctions) through ArtNet in case the orignal has been auctioned in the recent past.
      They require an account for information past a certain point.

      Also, try searching past lots on auction sites like Sothebys and Christies.

      If you haven’t already, you can try making an image of the print and use Google images search to look for similar images: (Click on the camera icon upload the image.)

  29. Hi, I was just curious if anyone knows wether or not he ever signed his paintings as simply “Frits”? I have a huge oil canvas of an ocean scene and the detail is awesome. It is signed Frits and the signature look so much like other paintings! Thanks!!

  30. Dear Vidar,
    Given that photography was already available at the time of Fritz Thaulow, did he ever paint using photographs?
    Thank you so much!

  31. Thanks for the information! He is one of my favorite artist and, like you, I also discovered him during a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. His treatment of moving water iand light is amazing. I would go to the museum again just to look at his “Water Mill” painting.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nancy.

      Unfortunately, Water Mill is not always on view, they rotate it into and out of storage every so often. It’s best to check before going to the museum with the expectation of seeing this particular painting (although the museum is always worth a visit). At the moment (August 27, 2016), Water Mill is not on view. You can check the status of the painting here.

  32. I just discovered Frits Thaulow last week while browsing through windmill artwork online. I was looking for something that resembled a pre-1920 sepia (unsigned) that I bought in 1989. I was absolutely dumfounded when I came across his landscape with windmill etching from 1899. It was the co!ored version of what’s been hanging on my wall for 27 years! If its not his, whoever did it had to have copied the etching very carefully. Did he ever do preliminary sepias? I was told by an art instructor at the university in Albuquerque who looked at mine that doing such was common to get the play of light and shadows right. Then the sepia was usually destroyed after the intended artwork was finished. If it is his it would explain why some of the less difficult detail in the etching is slightly more developed than in the sepia. If I were copying another piece of art I think I would put in ALL the detail so that I could compare my finished piece with the original.
    Any information you can give me would be appreciated. I have been intrigued by this beautiful sepia for years, and to finally see it in color was indescribable! His Art takes my breath away! The water even in my sepia looks so real you almost expect to hear it lapping against the reeds.

  33. Hello Pam,
    Here is hoping you see this comment all these years later. My interest is that Arvid Gornitska was my great grandfather and our family is interested in his work and seeing what became of the pieces that were sold by him.
    It sounds as if you have one of his pieces, as he did live in South Africa during that time. How exciting!

  34. Hi Lynn,
    I do have one of his pieces. It is an African scene. If you find out any more about him or his work, please let me know. My e-mail

Comments are closed.