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 SkÃ¥nberg. 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.]