Wanderlust at Dordrechts Museum

Detail from Alexander Wüst, Mountainstream in Moonlight near Finmarken, Norway, 1867. Collection of Dordrechts Museum

Like other artists, Dutch nineteenth century painters loved to travel. The German word Wanderlust is often used to describe this urge to travel. Wanderlust, an exhibition full of romantic landscapes, is currently to be found at the Dordrechts Museum. 

Dutch artists may be famous for their flat landscapes with cows, tulips, mills but the museum decided to focus on painters who traveled abroad. The result is an exhibition of a hundred works by famous and forgotten artists.

After Napoleon’s brother became King of the Netherlands in 1807, he created a Dutch version of the Prix de Rome. Dutch artists could win a grant to study in Paris and Rome for a few years. Among early works in this exhibition are scenes showing Italian landscapes and Rome’s buildings by Cornelis Kruseman and Joseph Augustus Knip.

As long-distance travel became easier during the 19th century, young artists were soon drawn to explore less well-known places. From Paris, some wandered to French regions including Normandy and Brittany, like Johan-Barthold Jongkind. Others were attracted to mountains, from the Alps to the Pyrenees and even further away: Norway with its impressive fjords.

The exhibition also pays attention to artists who worked in Dutch colonies like Indonesia as well as Surinam. Works exhibited include exquisite botanical drawings, as well as landscapes and portraits.

Auguste Antoine Joseph Payen was commissioned by Dutch King William I to create a series of Indonesian landscapes. In Indonesia, Payen painted an early impression of the Borobudur, then still a ruin. He also met a very talented young boy: Raden Saleh.

There are several works by Saleh exhibited, including scenes of an erupting volcano. Saleh traveled to Europe to study with Kruseman and Schelfhout. He spent time at the court of Ernest I, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, visited various places in Europe as well as in the Mediterranean. A severe case of Wanderlust, he returned to Indonesia in 1852 only to visit Europe again around 1880.

Another artist bitten by the Wanderlust bug, was Alexander Wüst. Born in Dordrecht, he migrated to America where he created romantic landscapes but he also visited Norway. The Dordrechts museum has several of his paintings and watercolours in its collection and a few are on show in this exhibition.

However, the works I liked best were three by Betzy Rezora Akersloot-Berg. Norwegian by birth, she first trained as a nurse and worked among the Sami, before deciding upon a career switch. After taking lessons at the Statens håndverks- og kunstindustriskole, she followed one of her teachers to Munich.

During a trip to Vienna, she was impressed by paintings by Hendrik Willem Mesdag. After meeting the Mesdags, she settled in The Hague and took lessons from him. The Mesdags introduced her to one of their friends whom Berg married.

Her husband and she settled on Vlieland, one of the Dutch Wadden islands. However, married life on the Wadden island did not put a stop to Akersloot-Berg’s Wanderlust. She continued to travel and paint through Europe, regularly visiting Norway as well, while specializing in beautiful coastal landscapes.

This exhibition shows works from the Dordt’s Museum’s own collection and loans from the Amsterdam Rijksmuseum, the Tromp’s Huys on Vlieland (Akersloot-Berg’s former home) and other museums.  Kate Deni   28th July 2022

This exhibition, together with the related modern art exhibition Watamula, can be visited untill 8th of January 2023.