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Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century

April 5–July 4, 2011

Gallery Four: Open Windows and Empty Rooms

When one of Caspar David Friedrich's window views was first shown in Dresden in 1806, it was widely admired, hailed by critics, and emulated by his followers. For artists, the enduring attraction of the subject lies in its purely visual appeal: echoing the rectangular or square shape of the canvas, the window view turns into a "picture within a picture." Even a barren landscape, when framed in a window, can be transformed into an enthralling scene. Some artists recorded actual sites—Copenhagen's harbor, the river Elbe near Dresden, the Bay of Naples—while others invented, or even largely blocked, the views from their studios or painted them in the chill of moonlight.

Between 1845 and 1851 the German Realist Adolph Menzel created a series of pictures devoted to the effects of light in mostly empty rooms. He painted his bedroom in daylight with a view of expanding Berlin outside the window, his sitting room with closed shutters at twilight, and the building's staircase at night. Menzel never exhibited these small works during his lifetime, regarding them as mere experiments. They were discovered only after his death.