Many of Thaulow’s best known Norwegian scenes are from Åsgårdstrand, a town 100 km south of Oslo. It had become a significant centre for artists and painters from the 1880’s. The town had been home to many internationally famous painter, such as Edvard Munch, Christian Krogh, and Hans Heyerdahl, who had either visited or lived in the town. Again, like Skagen, the reason it was popular with painters was because of its unique light which the best artists wanted to depict in their works.
Thaulow visited the Norwegian coastal town of Kragerø which was, and still is, a place where people went to “get away from it all”. It was a location which the great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch fell in love with, calling it ” Perlen blandt kystbyene (The Pearl of the Coastal Towns). The town of Kragerø is characterized by clear, blue water and beautiful views.
However, in one of Thaulow’s paintings of the town, Houses in Kragerø, we see a more realistic depiction of it. Gone are the blue water and beautiful views and instead we see an everyday view of the backs of the old houses with clothes pegged to a washing line fluttering in a strong breeze. There is a lack of bright colours, a lack of blue skies, just a simple depiction of an area of the town, “warts and all”.
In 1883 after a visit to Blaafarveværket, a cobalt mining and industrial company located at Amort in Modum in the Norwegian county of Buskerud, some thirty miles west of Oslo. Here there is the spectacular Haugsfossen waterfall and it was here that Thaulow completed his 1883 painting entitled Haugsfossen ved Modum. It is a spectacular painting and once again we witness Thaulow’s great talent when it comes to painting scenes which include stretches of water. The green tones used for the water when combined with shades of white in contrast to the black rocks allow us to imagine the ferocity of the water has it hurtles down the waterfall, carrying with it fallen logs.
Thaulow travelled to Venice on a number of occasions in the 1890’s and made many sketches and paintings of the city highlighting the city’s canals and architecture and completed many paintings of that city. In 1892, Thaulow returned once again to France but this time to make it his home. Originally, he lived in Paris but soon tired of the hustle and bustle and preferred a quieter life in the smaller towns of Dieppe, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Quimperle in Brittany and further south, the town of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.
Frits Thaulow had met Claude Monet when he was in Paris and a friendship between the two plein-air painters developed. Both Thaulow and Monet painted in Normandy with Monet preferring to base himself on the coast and depict the stormy sea and the windswept coastal landscapes whereas Thaulow preferred the tranquillity of painting on quiet rivers.
Thaulow’s weather tends to be calmer which in a way was more in keeping with his temperament. Thaulow said of himself:
“…I am more drawn to the gentle and harmonic than to the vigorous…”
Thaulow had urged Monet to paint in Norway, and the French artist finally acquiesced and travelled there in the winter of 1895, to visit his stepson, Jacques Hoschedé, who lived in Christiania. It proved a disastrous visit because of the severe winter climate with the temperature at minus twenty degrees Celsius when he arrived and because of the amount of snow falling, painting outdoors was a very difficult chore for Monet. One of the works completed during the visit was Sandvika. This small town just south-west of Oslo, looks as though it had been done in a blizzard.
It is interesting to note the colours used in the painting – cold blues and lavender whereas Thaulow often used gold and yellow in his winter scenes giving it a slightly warmer feeling. Maybe Monet just wanted to make sure we knew how cold and uncomfortable it was to paint winter scenes in such conditions whereas Thaulow was more forgiving.
Despite the adverse conditions, Monet painted twenty-nine Norwegian scenes during his two-month stay and these included at least six views of Sandvika. It is thought that the iron bridge we see in the foreground may have reminded Monet of the Japanese bridge at his home in Giverny. Monet never returned to Norway – he had had enough of the cold and inhospitable climate.
The Normandy coastal village of Camiers, which lies about ten miles south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, was visited by Thaulow in 1893 and that year he completed a painting depicting the village, entitled Evening in Camiers in which we see the sun setting over the dunes and rose-tinted houses caught up in the evening sunlight.
Through an 1895 painting by Jaques-Emile Blanche we get an insight into Thaulow’s family life. In the portrait, Thaulow the Painter and his Children, also known as The Thaulow Family, Frits Thaulow appeared with his daughter Else, aged 15 from his first marriage and two of the children from his second marriage, Harold then aged 8 and Ingrid aged 3. The third child from his second marriage, Christian, was only born that year and does not appear in the work. The painting is housed in the Musée d’Orsay. Blanche’s portrait was presented at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1896, was greeted with unanimous critical acclaim, which prompted Blanche to say later that this work was the one that “made him a painter”.
In the 1890’s Thaulow travelled to various European cities constantly sketching and painting what he observed. On his trip through northern Italy in 1894, he visited Verona on his way to Venice and completed a painting entitled The Adige River at Verona. In this work Thaulow used only muted colours and understated tonal harmonies which depict the view of the fast-flowing Adige River as it passes beneath the five arches of the sixteenth century Ponte della Pietra. In the background, we can see the Duomo of S. Maria Matricolare, and to the right the Sanmicheli’s campanile.
In the summer of 1905 Frits Thaulow spent some time with his family at La Panne, a small Flemish coastal resort. He had bought himself a small car and with this new-found transport was able to drive himself and his family to small Belgian towns in the area always looking for subjects for his paintings. One such painting was his 1905 work entitled Small Town Near La Panne. In the painting, we see small town houses nestled on the river bank and in the mid-ground a small arched bridge. Thaulow made three versions of this scene all slightly different in the way he depicted the bridge and the houses.
Thaulow received several honours for his artistic work including his appointment as commander of the 2nd Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1905. He received the French Legion of Honour, Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Italy and the Order of Nichan Iftikhar from Tunisia.
Thaulow developed diabetes in 1897, a time before insulin had been developed and his condition worsened over the next nine years Thaulow died in Volendam, in the Netherlands on November 5th 1906, aged 59.
Thaulow was a painter working within the framework of Realism, to which he made an original contribution. He forged a friendship with Monet and Rodin and was a valuable connection between Norwegian and French art.