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Georges Michel

* 1763 – † 1843

Der aufziehende Sturm (The Approaching Storm)

Oil on wood

Labelled at bottom left: V Bosch

Dark cloud formations race across the sky, some of them already bringing rain. The sailing boats on the water at right heel over in the wind like dire premonitions of worse to come. A woman and her child, apparently taken unawares by the elements, hurry to safety in the only remaining pool of sunlight in the left foreground. The scenographic light effects ratchet up the incipient drama, revealing the influence of the Romantics as a clear sign of the times. So violent is the tossing of the storm-lashed tree, for example, that the viewer can almost hear the roar of the wind in its leaves. The landscape that Georges Michel was painting was almost certainly near Den Bosch1 in the Netherlands, the home country of his great idols Jacob van Ruisdael2 and his pupil Meindert Hobbema3. As a restorer of Netherlandish painting at the Louvre, Michel had ample opportunity to study their works in depth.4 The two painters can be credited with having developed the realistic style of vernacular landscape painting that thanks largely to artists like Esaias van de Velde5 had entered the repertoire of Dutch painting around 1600. While there are storms of comparable drama in some of Ruisdael’s seascapes, Michel takes them a stage further in this work. The sheer dynamism of his rendition of the rapidly regrouping clouds, slanting squalls and gale-force winds, which in our painting can be felt even in the tiniest areas of vegetation, lends this work a modernity that few of his contemporaries understood or appreciated. That the realistic impulse in Michel’s landscape painting went largely unnoticed in the early nineteenth century and was not taken up until the plein air painters of the Barbizon School caught sight of it is thus not surprising.

A photographic expert assessment by Michel Schulman from 2021 is available. The painting is to be included in the catalogue of works currently being prepared.

  1. Den Bosch is the name used locally for the town of ʼs-Hertogenbosch in the southern Netherlands. Among those to adopt it as a personal name was the artist born as Jheronimus van Aken, better known as Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450–1516).

  2. Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael (1628/29?–1682).

  3. Meindert Lubbertszoon Hobbema (1638–1709).

  4. Zurück zur Natur. Die Künstlerkolonie von Barbizon. Ihre Vorgeschichte und ihre Auswirkung, exh. cat. Kunsthalle Bremen 1977, Bremen 1977, Chap. George Michel (unpag.).

  5. Esaias van de Velde (1587–1630) developed the “world landscape” style of landscape painting practised by his teacher Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525/30?–1569), for example, whose high horizons permitted a wealth of different landscapes to be combined in a single work, and from there proceeded to more realistic depictions of his own native landscapes with their characteristically low horizons.

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