Caspar Wolf

and the aesthetic conquest of nature


19.10.2014 – 01.02.2015 | Kunstmuseum Basel

Curator: Bodo Brinkmann


With his radical compositions of Alpine landscapes, which have nothing in common with the baroque idyll, the Swiss painter Caspar Wolf (1735─1783) is one of the most important precursors of European romanticism. The exhibition presents ca. 110 works of his hand and by artists who influenced him.

Starting in 1773, the Berne publisher Abraham Wagner hired Wolf to accompany him on extended hikes through the Alpine highlands, where they came upon scenes of virtually or utterly untouched nature. Wolf’s job was to interpret these excursions in pictures and communicate the explorers’ unique experiences of nature. His brilliant compositional solutions subject the immediate observations captured on the spot to a process of aesthetic formatting that the show seeks to illuminate. To this end, the Alpine views will be arranged not in their topographical order but based on formal criteria and by motifs: pictures of barricades and panoramas, pairs of back-to-back vistas, dynamic compositions and static ones. Why is it that the artist manifestly thinks in such pronounced aesthetic categories? To answer this question, the exhibition includes a brief retrospective exploration of Wolf’s earliest work and the transformation of his visual language that results from his close study of French art during a stay in Paris in 1769–1771.