Those who are not conversant in works of art are often surprised at the high value set by connoisseurs on drawings which appear careless, and in every respect unfinished; but they are truly valuable... they give the idea of a whole.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds
We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.
- Anais Nin


Friday, January 18, 2008

Frits Thaulow’s Water Mill

Posted by Charley Parker at 5:15 pm

Frits Thaulow - Water Mill
When I wrote about Norwegian painter Frits Thaulow back in 2006, I mentioned that he had become one of my favorite painters on the basis of a single, striking painting that is part of the Johnson Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

That painting is Water Mill, shown above. When I wrote the article I was disappointed to note that I couldn’t find any large reproductions of this particular work on the web, and made a mental note to take a photograph on a future visit to the museum.

Sometimes my mental notes can take a while to rotate forward on the cluttered bulletin board of my overworked brain, but I was at the Philadelphia Museum the other day and happened to take my camera (like many high-end museums, non-flash photography is permitted of works in the museum’s own holdings).

Since then, the museum has posted a larger view of the work on their site, including a Flash feature that allows you to zoom in. I’ve also done something I don’t normally do and posted a larger version of my shot here. I think the colors are slightly truer in my photo, but theirs has better definition. Also mine is slightly cropped due to the fact that I neglected to take lens distortion into account when taking my shot.

I just find this work striking, and visit it almost every time I visit the museum. Thaulow is a painter who walks that line between impressionism and painterly realism that I particularly admire, and his mastery of the surface reflections and translucency of shallow water is uncanny.

For more information and links for Frits Thaulow, see my previous post. The comments section to that post has additional information about Thaulow. Of particular interest are the comments from Vidar Poulsson, the Norwegian art historian who has written the definitive books on Thaulow, including the recent Frits Thaulow. En internasjonal maler (Frits Thaulow, An International Painter). Unfortunately, there is no English translation, and the book is not easy to come by here in the U.S. (You might try Alibris.)

I also found an additional resource from a company that sells painted reproductions of master paintings, but the images they show to choose from are of the originals, including Water Mill.

29 comments for Frits Thaulow’s Water Mill »

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  1. Comment by Detlef
    Saturday, January 19, 2008 @ 6:48 am

    The treatment of the water displays a real technical mastery. It is indeed a beautiful work.

  2. Comment by Christian
    Saturday, January 19, 2008 @ 10:20 am

    This site you mentioned offers quite a large number of Thaulow reproductions. As you probably know Thaulow is not very widespread on the internet. They show 7 works by the artist, whereas other websites do not even mention his name, good job.
    Do you know that it is possible that Thaulow mixed pastel with oil paint in The Water Mill ? The reflections in the water are really fantastic, so much realistic.

  3. Comment by Charley Parker
    Saturday, January 19, 2008 @ 10:32 am

    I haven’t seen anything unusual about the surface that would indicate anything other than oil, but I’m not sure how you would tell. My understanding is that pastel uses many of the same pigments present in oil paint, simply held more loosely in their binder.

  4. Comment by vivien
    Saturday, January 19, 2008 @ 11:06 am

    I’d never heard of him so thank you for showing this work – it’s fantastic :) I just love the way he’s captured the water surface and his use of colour is wonderful

  5. Comment by Christian
    Saturday, January 19, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

    I learned from his biography, that he used to mix oil paint with pastel in his works, and just wonder in which way it may help convey this effect of reality.


  6. Comment by Charley Parker
    Saturday, January 19, 2008 @ 4:14 pm

    Interesting. Thanks. I’ll try to look at Water Mill with that in mind the next time I’m at the museum, though as I said, I’m not sure what to look for. Perhaps it added texture.

  7. Comment by Christian
    Sunday, January 20, 2008 @ 11:27 am

    Charley, are there any other works by Thaulow at the Philadelphia Museum, have you taken photos of them ?
    Thaulow seems to have a very masterly manner of painting. Would be interesting to me to see some close details, if possible.

  8. Comment by Charley Parker
    Sunday, January 20, 2008 @ 1:07 pm

    I haven’t seen any, and a search of their online database produces only Water Mill. I’m inclined to start looking for other pieces that might be in museums in the U.S. Northeast, but I think most of his works may be in Europe.

  9. Comment by Belinda Del Pesco
    Tuesday, January 22, 2008 @ 1:03 am

    This is such a beautiful painting; the *light*, oh the light, and the tilted angle of view, and the three quarter break in the composition at the boundary between the water and the buildings, and the organic curved lines in the water against the geometry of the buildings… it’s just gorgeous. Please do post more work by him if you find/photograph it!

  10. Comment by Charley Parker
    Tuesday, January 22, 2008 @ 2:10 am

    Thanks for the comment, Belinda.

    I’ll do that if I can.

    Other readers may want to read my post on Belinda Del Pesco (somewhat out of date), or go directly to her painting blog.

  11. Comment by Hopeeternal
    Thursday, January 24, 2008 @ 11:27 am

    Lovely painting and a great mastery of technique. Thaulow is new to me and I must look him up! I am interested in the differences in colour between the delicate pastel colourings you have posted (jade greenish water and the much more emerald greenish on the link you give to the museum picture. I wonder if you could comment on which is the more accurate colouring please – well done for taking the picture though!
    Thank you

  12. Comment by K. Borcz
    Thursday, January 24, 2008 @ 9:03 pm

    I love the light on the water, great painting. I’m bookmarking your page so I learn more about all these artists I’ve never heard of but should have. Thank you for posting the detail photo, I can study it.

  13. Comment by Charley Parker
    Friday, January 25, 2008 @ 1:40 pm

    Thanks for the comments.

    I believe thecolor in the museum’s image is a bit oversaturated, particularly in the heavy greens. I think mine is a bit closer, though perhaps a little light.

  14. Comment by Michael
    Sunday, January 27, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

    Judging only from what I see on my monitor, I agree with you, and far prefer your take on this picture. Your version seems to include the air in the picture as well as the water.

    Interestingly, he was big buddies with Monet and they travelled to Norway in 1895 to paint winter landscapes.

  15. Comment by Roman
    Sunday, April 13, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

    Hi Charley,

    Just in case you don’t know it, there is another version of Water Mill. Here’s the link to the ArtFact site:

    Your picture is very good, btw, thanks.

  16. Comment by Charley Parker
    Monday, April 14, 2008 @ 8:08 am

    Fascinating. Thanks, Roman.

  17. Comment by Roman
    Thursday, June 5, 2008 @ 9:14 pm

    Hi Charley,

    I just received a digital image if Thaulow’s painting from Minneapolis Institute of Arts, titled The Mills at Montreuil-sur-Mer, Normandy. Evidently, it’s the same landscape subject (mill) though viewed from the side. The style and resemblance of colors is striking. I don’t think I can send it to you or reproduce it on the internet but you can write to them and ask for it. They are very nice and helpful

  18. Comment by Roman
    Monday, June 9, 2008 @ 10:13 pm

    Hi Charley,

    Did you receive my e-mail?

  19. Comment by AJay McLaughlin
    Wednesday, May 6, 2009 @ 1:21 pm

    This is possibly my favorite painting in the Johnson Collection. It is currently and disappointingly not on public view at this time. It is worth more than a room full of Barnett Newmans and a castle full of Cy Twomblys IMHO!!! It is simply stunning to the eye.

  20. Comment by Dottie Ji
    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

    I am visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art this weekend and am so sad to learn that this painting by Frits Thaulow is not currently on view. The one and only time I visited the museum was back in 2004, and like you, was so struck by this painting and completely captured by the way he depicts water. I searched the web for a print and couldn’t find one.
    How interesting to learn that you were also captivated by this painting and artist.

  21. Comment by Dottie Ji
    Saturday, February 20, 2010 @ 10:08 am

    Anyone who has happened upon this posting and disappointed to find that Water Mill is no longer on display–the good news is that it’s back! Refer to:

  22. Comment by Kevin
    Friday, February 26, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I’m happy to hear that this painting is a favorite of many others, as well. I stumbled upon it at PMA in 2002 and was absolutely mesmerized by it. It became a must-see every time I visited the museum over the next 4 years, while I lived in Philly. Many hours were spent in front of this piece. The water is nothing less than mastery.

  23. Comment by Jefferson
    Sunday, January 23, 2011 @ 9:51 pm

    I saw this today in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and agree that it is a spectacular painting. Visitor’s are stunned when they see it. Thaulow is a very under rated artist. It is in the same room with Charlemont’s “Moorish King” and across the hall from Renoir’s “Portrait of Mademoiselle Le Grande!”

  24. Comment by Charley Parker
    Monday, January 24, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    Thanks for your comment. The museum put Water Mill away for a time, but fortunately brought it back out. (I think a number of people contacted the museum and requested that it be returned to view. I know I was one, at least.)

  25. Comment by George
    Sunday, July 3, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

    does anyone know by chance, if the “water mill” exists as a print to buy somewhere? would very much appreciate any help,

    thanks, george

  26. Comment by Janet Bernosky
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 @ 9:57 am

    Hello, I was doing some research on Fritz Thaulow because I think I might have a pen and ink drawing by him. I can’t find my loop to look at it close enough to see if it’s a print or not, but eyeballing it, I think it could be original. I am wondering if you know the values of some of his works. If it is original, I would love to sell it…

  27. Comment by Janet Bernosky
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011 @ 9:58 am

    I meant Frits not Fritz…

  28. Comment by Ray Lagstein
    Saturday, June 23, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

    When I first read this post, I thought it was something I had written years ago. Years ago, I first saw the “Watermill”, and couldn’t move from the spot for an hour. Then circled back to it for another half hour. Before the internet gave us such access, I couldn’t find a copy of this painting, and very few Thaulow books. So i called the Philadelphia Museum of Art for help. It seems that any painting in the museum collection can be put on a slide for $5. I then enlarged and printed the slide. The print lies on the wall of my office reception area since then. And I also anticipate seeing this painting when I visit the museum, like an old dear friend.

  29. Comment by Dottie Ji
    Friday, December 20, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    Thank you for this information, Ray. I may be visiting the museum again soon and will definitely look into the slide information!

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