Since the early nineteenth-century, the waterfront ship and lumber yard in Copenhagen depicted here has been known as Larsens Plads, or Larsen’s Place, after its founder, Lars Larsen (1758–1844). In 1811 Dahl moved to Copenhagen from his native city, the Norwegian port of Bergen, to study painting at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, remaining in the Danish capital for seven years. He first painted this prospect in 1816 (Kurpfälzisches Museum, Heidelberg; Bang 1987, no. 99); this was the year after his breakthrough at the Academy’s annual exhibition of 1815, and the year before he completed his training in 1817. In reprising the subject for the present work, he doubled the size of the canvas, omitting incidental details and heightening the atmospheric effect.
This poetic moonlit scene was conceived as a pendant to a far wilder, natural one, Tyrolean Landscape with a Waterfall
, of 1823 (private collection; Bang 399). Work on the picture began in 1824 or 1825, but the unidentified patron who ordered it died, and Dahl left it incomplete until 1846. The artist later wrote: “This painting has taken more time than two paintings of similar size, it is a kind of picture that I shall surely not be able to paint any more. If it were not for the fact that it was already started, I should never have undertaken such work now with my weak eyes” (Dahl 1850). He exhibited the work in his adopted city of Dresden and then in Berlin, Oslo, and Copenhagen in a vain effort to sell it, finally giving it to his daughter and son-in-law in 1854.
This Danish subject by a Norwegian painter who was based in Dresden testifies to Dahl’s international reach during his lifetime. Dahl favored night scenes, as in Moonlit View of the River Elbe at Dresden
of 1826 (The Met, 2016.802.9
) and Mother and Child by the Sea
of 1830 (The Met 2007.164.2
), as did his contemporaries Caspar David Friedrich (see The Met 2000.51
), Carl Gustav Carus (see The Met 2018.749
), and Martinus Rørbye (see The Met 2007.164.7
). In the present work, moonlight imbues an essentially industrial setting—cacophonous in the daytime—with an unlikely sense of harmony. Moonlight imagery permeated the arts in the German-speaking world around 1800. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) opened his poem “To the Moon” (1789), later set to music by Franz Schubert (1797–1828), with the words “BUSH and vale thou fill’st again / With thy misty ray, / And my spirit's heavy chain / Castest far away. / Thou dost o'er my fields extend / Thy sweet soothing eye, / Watching like a gentle friend, / O'er my destiny.” To music critic and poet Ludwig Rellstab (1799–1860), Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 14 (1801) evoked moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne; it is still known as the Moonlight Sonata
. As philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) wrote: “the moon is sublime, and moves us sublimely because it stays aloof from all our earthly activities, it sees all, yet it takes no part in it . . . .”
There are three known drawings related to this painting: a sheet of figure studies dated “21 May 1846” (Nasjonalgalleriet, Oslo, inv. B. 2790); another figure study dated “3 Juny 1846” (private collection, Elverum); and a ricordo
, signed and dated “Dahl 1847” and further signed, dated, and inscribed: “Havnen ved Kiöbenhavn fra Larsens Plads. JDahl 1846 f. 2 Al. 17 Tom 1. – 1 Al. 17 3/4 T.h. S.M.” (KODE Museums, Bergen, inv. BB 796, LV. 742).
Asher Miller 2019
 Edgar Alfred Bowring, The Poems of Goethe: Translated in the Original Metres with a Sketch of Goethe’s Life
, London, 1853, pp. 95–96.
 Arthur Schopenhauer, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung
, part 2 (1842), in Sämtliche Werke
, ed. Arthur Hübscher, Wiesbaden, 1972, vol. 3, pp. 428–29, excerpt trans. Sabine Rewald in Moonwatchers
, exh. cat., The Met, New York, 2001, p. 12.