Johan Christian Dahl relocated permanently to Dresden after his journey to Italy 1820–21. In the following years he painted several more or less fanciful depictions of Norwegian landscapes, a genre that he had also been successful with during his Copenhagen years. The shift in Dahl’s understanding of the Norwegian landscape came in 1826, when he made his first field trip around Norway, travelling from Christiania through Telemark and over the Hardanger Plateau to the fjords of Western Norway. For the first time as a mature artist, he was able to see the southern Norwegian landscape in all its diversity.
Dahl painted Winter at the Sognefjord in the following year. The painting shows the view from Nornes toward Fimreite on the other side of the fjord. As a battle site during the struggle for royal power in 1184, Fimreite held a special place in the national consciousness, while the mighty menhirs at Nornes testified to a heroic past.
The composition is based on a drawing that Dahl made at the site, but it has become more concentrated. The mountains have become steeper, and the monolith in the foreground forms a conspicuous vertical line toward the reflecting water and the diagonal lines in the foreground. The monolith also helps set the mood, as does the snow with its associations to the past and death, while the light from the morning sun on the monolith’s apex has been interpreted as a ray of hope; this fusion of form and content is something the painting has in common with Caspar David Friedrich’s symbolic landscapes. But above all, Dahl’s depiction pays homage to the majestic nature of Norway and the nation’s proud history.
Text: Bodil Sørensen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0