Mother and Child by the Sea

Artist: Johan Christian Dahl (Norwegian, Bergen 1788–1857 Dresden)

Date: 1830

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 6 1/4 x 8 1/8 in. (15.9 x 20.6 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Gift of Eugene V. Thaw, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.164.2


In a letter to its prospective owner, the architect J. H. Koch, the painter described this work as "a coast in moonlight where a woman and her child are waiting for an approaching boat bearing a close relation."

Two drawings have been identified as having been used as studies for Mother and Child by the Sea (both Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo; see Rewald 2001, p. 50, ill.). The first, a study of an anchor, is dated 1826. The second, dated April 1827, depicts a woman and child on a beach observing a passing sailboat. Dahl had employed similar settings in recent works, as had his friend and neighbor in Dresden, the German painter Caspar David Friedrich, whose painting Two Men Contemplating the Moon (1819; State Museum, Dresden) Dahl owned. Other biographical details are also worth noting here, given the artist's description of the subject and its date of 1830: his own father was a fisherman; also, two of his children died in the year prior to the completion of the painting.

Another painting by Friedrich is probably relevant to the genesis of the present work. For his 1826 painting Evening on the Baltic (Georg Schäfer Museum, Schweinfurt; see Helmut Börsch-Supan and Karl Wilhelm Jähnig, Caspar David Friedrich: Gemälde, Druckgraphik und bildmäßige Zeichnungen, Munich, 1973, no. 350), the German painter used a drawing by Dahl which is contemporary with the aforementioned anchor study: this one, dated May 5, 1826, depicts an anchor before a beached boat (Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo; see Leif Ostby, Johan Christian Dahl: Tegninger og Akvareller, Oslo, 1957, pp. 29–30, ill. on p. 140; see also Werner Sumowski, Caspar David Friedrich-Studien, Wiesbaden, 1970, p. 123).

Dahl executed a version of this composition in 1840 (21 x 31 cm; Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham; Bang 1987, no. 915). More highly finished than the present work, it was rediscovered at the time it was included in Exh. New York 2001 (not in cat.) and was subsequently the centerpiece of the exhibition and associated publication Spencer-Longhurst 2006. The artist made a drawing after this version for his "Liber Veritatis" (Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo).