Listening Leoš Janáček and looking at paintings of the 19th century is an interesting combination. While the horns of III. Gloria (Galgotic Mass) create a heavy feeling, the landscape of Christian Ernst Bernhard Morgenstern (1805-1867) opens up in ways I could not imagine. I wish I would have been standing in front of the painting (Staffelsee bei Murnau, 1847, oil on canvas, 68 x 87 cm, Folkwangen Museum, Essen, INV. G 478) with exactly the same song.
It is an astonishing light flooded scenery. In the foreground on the right site we see a lift, covered with some bushes and a lonesome young tree with just a few branches absorbing the light. Next to the lift, the middle, a muddy path goes down to a swampy grassland. While looking down the path we see five figures: Dogs playing and a man in simple cloth resting. His back is turned towards us and he seems to enjoy the view. The grassland, which covers most of the lower quarter of the left site of painting is scattered with small ponds and connects to lake in the middle. We see an island in the middle of the lake and hills covering the bank. Those are covered with conifers. At the opposite shore a rough, but rather flat landscape creates the horizon line. This line in nearly the middle of the painting is only set out by some higher mountains on the left. The sky is covered in a blue mixed with vanilla and a later afternoon sun breaks through some dark clouds. The light of the sun, filtered by the clouds, immerses the lake and the landscape into a red-golden light. Morgenstern creates here an apotheosis of nature driven by the specific light of an afternoon sun breaking through the clouds, just like Leoš Janáček music breaks out of it melodic scheme.
If you have time, and you are by chance in Essen try the combination, it is hypnotic. Thanks to the person that made me aware of that painting!
written by Patrick C. Haas
M.A. of art history, lives and works in Cologne and Bonn