Rooms with a View at the Metropolitan Museum

In 1806, Caspar David Friedrich, perhaps the greatest German artist of his generation, inaugurated a motif that sparked an artistic trend. Working in the challenging medium of sepia, Friedrich created two works featuring an open window with right and left views of his studio interior. Open windows, of course, were often featured in artworks, but Friedrich’s perspective was different, giving attention to what was inside the room as well as what existed outside.

Friedrich’s sepias, exhibited at the prestigious Dresden Academy, led to other artists using the open window as a theme in their paintings and drawings. A new exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century, spotlights this movement, bringing together 31 oil paintings and 26 works on paper, most on loan from museums in Germany, Denmark, France, Italy, Austria, Sweden, and the U.S.

Many of the paintings expand on Friedrich’s theme, showing not only the artist’s studio, but also the artist at work. Georg Friedrich Kersting actually captured Friedrich himself as he worked on a canvas, steadying his hand with a long pole called a maulstick. (Kersting was known for his sharp attention to details, and his interiors, nine in this exhibit, are regarded as his best work). We see Johann Adam Klein and Johann Christoph Erhard, two German artists, who painted portraits of each other working in their Vienna studios.

“The Artist in his Room at the Villa Medici, Rome,” by the French painter, Léon Cogniet, seems to catch the artist soon after his arrival, his bags on the floor as he reads a letter, ignoring the view of the garden outside his window.

The Napoleonic Wars (1803-15) coincided with the Danish Golden Age, yet the paintings in this exhibit only hint at the chaos that enveloped Europe. Wilhelm Bendz portrays his two brothers, one whose bleeding foot indicates a war injury, the other brother, a doctor, perhaps preparing to administer aid. But the scene in the room seems calm, orderly.

Another Danish painting, Emilius Bærentzen’s “The Family Circle,” shows a family of four contently enjoying a sunny afternoon before an elaborately decorated window. The three women are busy sewing while the father reads a book. Outside the window we see buildings, but there is no indication that a war is raging in the streets.

Artists took liberties with the views outside their windows, often substituting a sought after view for the real thing. Carl Ludwig Kaaz transformed the Dresden landscape he looked out upon into an Italianate one.

The Danish painter, Martinus Rørbye’s “View from the Artist’s Window,” is actually a view from his parent’s window. And, the plaster casts on the window sill—one a child’s foot the other an adult’s—may refer back to his status.

Friedrich seemed to be making a political statement on the restrictive roles of women in society with his “Woman at the Window.” The woman stands in a darkened room before a large window, yet she peers out of a small opening, the beautiful landscape remaining out of her reach.

These painters fashioned interiors that are fascinating, compelling. In Louise-Adéone Drolling’s “Interior with Young Woman Tracing a Flower,” we see a crumpled piece of paper on the floor and imagine a discarded earlier effort. A squirrel, a symbol of persistence, is tethered to a chair. Does the animal represent her persistence?

Curator Sabine Rewald said she went on “many begging trips” to put this exhibit together. Because of a Russian embargo that went into effect in January, artwork from that country is not included in this show. Rewald is Jacques and Natasha Gelman Curator in the Met’s Department of Nineteenth-Century, Modern, and Contemporary Art.

Still, what has made it across the ocean was well worth the effort. Each painting tells a story and it is tempting to linger and tease out the details.

Rooms with a View
The Open Window in the 19th Century
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Through July 4, 2011

Illustrations, from top:

Casper David Friedrich. German, 1774–1840
View from the Artist’s Studio, Window on the Left
ca. 1805–06
Graphite and sepia on paper
12 3/8 x 9 1/4 in. (31.4 x 23.5cm)
Belvedere, Vienna

Casper David Friedrich. German, 1774–1840
View from the Artist’s Studio, Window on the Right
ca. 1805–06
Graphite and sepia on paper
12 1/4 x 9 3/8 in. (31.2 x 23.7cm)
Belvedere, Vienna

Georg Friedrich Kersting. German, 1785–1847
Casper David Friedrich in his Studio
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 16 1/2 in. (54 x 42 cm)
Hamburger Kunsthalle

Léon Cogniet. French, 1794-1880
The Artist in his Room at the Villa Medici, Rome
Oil on canvas
17 1/2 x 14 5/8 in. (44.5 x 37 cm)
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund

Wilhelm Bendz. Danish, 1804–1832
Interior from Amaliegade with the Artist’s Brothers
ca. 1829
Oil on canvas
12 3/4 x 19 1/4 in. (32.3 x 49 cm)
The Hirschsprung Collection, Copenhagen

Emilius Bærentzen. Danish, 1799–1868
The Family Circle
ca. 1830
Oil on canvas
26.3/4 x 231/4 in. (68 x 59cm)
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Carl Ludwig Kaaz. German, 1773–1810
View from Grassi’s Villa toward the Plauensche Grund near
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 28 in. (92 x 71 cm)
Private Collection Germany, courtesy C.G. Boerner Düsseldorf/New York

Martinus Rørbye. Danish, 1803–1848
View from the Artist’s Window
Oil on canvas
15 x 11 3/4 in. (38 x 30 cm)
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

Casper David Friedrich. German, 1774–1840
Woman at the Window
Oil on canvas
17 3/4 x 12 7/8 in. (45 x 32.7 cm)
Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie

Louise-Adéone Drolling. French, 1797–1831
Interior with Young Woman Tracing a Flower
ca. 1820–22
Oil on canvas
22 1/4 x 17 7/8 in. (56.5 x 45.4 cm)
Saint Louis Art Museum, Miss Lillie B. Randell by exchange

About Charlene Giannetti (927 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines including the New York Times. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her new book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "19 Daniel Highway," focusing on the opioid crisis that will be filmed in 2019. Charlene divides her time between homes in Manhattan and Alexandria, Virginia.