Alexandre Calame

Alexandre Calame (Vevey 1810 - 1864 Menton)

La Tour, Lake Geneva, 1845

Oil on cardboard, 22,8 x 50,3 cm
Inscribed and dated lower right La Tour. Août 13. 1845.

Bearing the Vente Calame seal on the verso; label of the Lecène collection, Paris; address label of Galerie Dr. Rehfous, Geneva

Provenance:
Calame estate sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, Vente Calame, 18 May 1865, lot 33 (as Le village de La Tour sur le lac de Genève)
Lecène collection, Paris (purchased at the Vente Calame in 1865 for F255)[1] Galerie Dr. Rehfous, Geneva
Private collection, Switzerland

Literature:
Valentina Anker, Alexandre Calame - Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Fribourg 1987, p. 365, no. 255 (repr.)

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This plein-air oil sketch by Alexandre Calame is dated very precisely Août 13. 1845. It was painted on the north-east shore of Lake Geneva near La Tour-de-Peilz, a village near Vevey, Calame's birthplace. Calame never intended to offer his oil sketches for sale but kept them as models to serve as the basis for large-format studio paintings. Most of them remained in his studio until his death. They did not appear on the market in any great number until his estate was dispersed at auction in Paris in 1865. Present-day collectors are attracted by their extraordinary virtuosity and topographical exactitude. The sketches convey a compellingly accurate impression of the atmospheric effects and the quality of light experienced before the motif. Calame's determination to achieve a high degree of realism in his oil sketches was fundamental to the completion of the magisterial studio landscapes.[2]

The sketch depicts an expansive view across Lake Geneva framed by a striking panorama of distant mountain peaks. The unusually wide format perhaps anticipates panoramic photography. This was to prove very popular only a few decades later. Dark clouds gather in a heavy sky, presaging an August storm. Sunlight illuminates a narrow band of uneven ground. This terrain projects into the water at a sharp angle to the picture plane, leading the eye deep into the picture space. The ground is starkly modelled and punctuated by deep areas of shadow. The distant peaks appear delicately and schematically drawn, as if veiled in a light haze. The sketch demonstrates the important influence on Calame's stylistic development of his stay in Rome in the previous year.

Calame began his career as an employee of a banker named Diodati. It was Diodati who enabled him to take up painting in 1829, financing his studies under the landscape painter François Diday. Calame spent free moments colouring Swiss views which he sold to tourists. He began to exhibit regularly in Geneva, Berlin and Leipzig in 1835 and after 1839 was a regular contributor to the Paris Salon. Public recognition was widespread, particularly in France and Germany. He visited Rome and Naples in 1844, where he was in contact with and influenced by the international community of artists living and working in the two cities. In 1855, failing health compelled him to restrict his travels to regions north of the Alps.[3]

In the 1840s, Calame was ranked as one of Switzerland's leading landscape painters in the company of such names as his teacher François Diday and Wolfgang-Adam Töpffer. He received numerous awards during his lifetime. Today he is regarded as one of the major representatives of the Swiss Romantic heroic tradition in landscape and alpine painting.[4]


[1] See Valentina Anker, Alexandre Calame - Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Fribourg 1987, p. 365.

[2] See Alberto de Andrés, Alpine Views. Alexandre Calame and the Swiss Landscape, exhib. cat., Williamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institue, New Haven and London 2006, p. 28.

[3] See Valentina Anker, Alexandre Calame: Vie et son oeuvre, catalogue raisonne de l'oeuvre de peint, Fribourg 1987.

[4] An exhibition of works from the private collection of Asbjorn Lunde was staged at the National Gallery in London in 2011. It featured a large group of paintings by Calame shown in juxtaposition to works by major Northern European painters. The exhibition convincingly demonstrated Calame's signal importance in early 19th-century European landscape painting. See Forests, Rocks, Torrents; Norwegian and Swiss Landscape Paintings from the Lunde Collection, exhib. cat., London, National Gallery, 2011.

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