(Norwegian, Frederikshald 1802–1842 Munich)
Medium: Oil on paper, laid down on card
Dimensions: 5 3/4 x 10 1/8 in.
Credit Line: Thaw Collection, Jointly Owned by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Morgan Library & Museum, Gift of Eugene V. Thaw, 2009
Accession Number: 2009.400.57
On view in Gallery 806
Thomas Fearnley’s Sunset, Sorrento is a remarkable oil sketch on paper that depicts a vibrant sun as it sets over the water. It was painted in 1834 after Fearnley visited Italy for an extended period of time.
Fearnley’s untimely death at the age of 39 exposed his oil sketches, which were unfinished works in his eyes, to the public. His friend and mentor, Johan Christian Dahl, encouraged the Norwegian National Gallery to ask his widow for the sketches. Today, some scholars believe Fearnley’s delicate oil sketches of varied landscapes are better than his finished paintings.
According to Willoch, “hardly any Scandinavian painter has depicted Italy with more loving care than Fearnley in the play of light over the details” (1932: 250). Sunset, Sorrento is a perfect example of Fearnley’s dedication to conveying the beauty of the Italian scenery; the bright, small sun in the center of the painting emphasizes the fleeting quality of the moment and the stark lines in the clouds depict the incoming darkness.
Without the urging of Dahl, the public would never have been exposed to Sunset, Sorrento or the other oil sketches of landscapes in Fearnley’s body of work. The sketches provide not only a look at Fearnley’s command of the plein-air oil sketch medium, but also a glimpse into the scenes and moments in time that most pleased Fearnley. The oil sketches represent the work he did for himself, perhaps as inspiration or relaxation (Day and Faber, 2006).
Fearnley is thought of as one of Norway’s most important artists, thanks in part to the collection of oil sketches he may not have ever shown.
A note about provenance
Sunset, Sorrento stayed within the Fearnley family for many years. Fearnley himself owned it until his death in 1842. From 1842 until 1927, Fearnley’s son, Hofjaegermester Thomas Fearnley, Oslo, held ownership of the sketch. In 1927, the ownership transferred to Fearnley’s grandson, Thomas Fearnley, Norway, until he sold it to Day & Faber, London, in 2006. Eugene V. Thaw, New York, purchased the painting in 2006 and gifted it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Morgan Library & Museum in 2009.
(2009). Annual report of the trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Annual Report of the Trustees of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 140, 29.
(2014a). Fearnley, Thomas. In Grove Art Online. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/art/T027710
(2014b). Fearnley, Thomas. In Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford Art Online.
Brown, M. (2012, October 7). Thomas Fearnley exhibition aims to reacquaint UK with “supreme talent.” The Guardian, p. 3.
Bullock, R. E. (2014, April 24) Sky’s the limit. New York Sun, p. 2. Retrieved from http://www.nysun.com/arts/skys-the-limit/88684/
Day and Faber. (2006). Wanderlust: Oil sketches by Thomas Fearnley. London: Artis Fine Art.
This brief book is an important one in the study of Thomas Fearnley’s work. It gives background information about the majority of his work that we know today—his plein-air sketches—and how his untimely death inspired his mentor, Johan Christian Dahl, to convince the Norwegian National Gallery to take the seemingly unfinished works. The oil sketches are often described as “better than Fearnley’s finished work.”
Garlick, K. (1959). The Romantic exhibition. The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd., 101(676/677), 282–286.
Sumner, A., Smith, G., & Arts, B. I. of F. (2012). In Front of Nature: The European Landscapes of Thomas Fearnley. London: GILES, an imprint of D Giles Limited.
The Morgan Library and Museum. (2003). Eugene V. Thaw. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Thomas Fearnley. (2014). In The National Gallery. The National Gallery London.
Tonkovich, J. (2011). Studying nature: Oil sketches from the Thaw Collection. New York: The Morgan Library & Museum.
This reference is an important one to review to get a sense of Fearnley’s work and how it fits into the Thaw Collection, and oil sketches of landscapes in general. This book also illustrates the appeal the collection may have to both the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Morgan Library & Museum.
Willoch, S. (1932). Maleren Thomas Fearnley. Oslo: Gyldendal Norsk.
Though this book is in Norwegian, there is a summary in the back in English that is thoughtful and informative. I’m glad I flipped through the entire book because it wasn’t immediately apparent that there was an English component.