“Cloud Study” by Johann Georg von Dillis

by mitchellgallery


Johann Georg von Dillis, (1759-1841), Cloud Study, ca. 1810-1820, white chalk on blue paper, Thaw Collection, Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2010.132

I’ll take up another von Dillis piece this week, but take another tack and focus more on the external circumstances of the work. For the two von Dillis pieces (I wrote on the other last week) on display for this exhibit reflect two related ideas about man’s relationship to nature. Both involve the nature we find in our backyard, and the Cloud Study especially reflects that. It was one of 150 that von Dillis completed in his lifetime, most of which were drawn from clouds seen outside his office window.

The artistic interest in clouds began just after the publication of Luke Howard’s Essay on the Modification of Clouds, a work of early meteorology in which Howard set out the classification system for cloud types and brought into it the Latin names we still use today. The work was championed by the poet and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote introductory verses for the essay. Quickly, the essay inspired painters to begin to take a greater interest in cloud forms, seen in the large number of cloud studies both von Dillis and, his contemporary, John Constable completed over their lifetimes.

What distinguishes the Cloud Study from the other von Dillis work is the lack of composition. There is no careful placement of a figure among the trees, no careful choice of color emphasize elements. What we are given is a series of light white marks on blue paper: a light and thin cloud, most likely a cirrus. Though I find it difficult to pull meaning out of the painting, as I can from the Forrest View. In the Cloud Study von Dillis is not acting as the painter composing for us a scene showing are relationship to nature, but he is working through his own relationship to nature. He is painting his immediate experience of nature, and that is what is presented to us. In a sense, von Dillis is the woman in the trees.

This exhibition is made possible by The Morgan Library & Museum, New York,

with additional support generously provided by the Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw  Charitable Trust.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Arthur E. and Hilda C. Landers        Charitable Trust.

—Will Harrington, St. John’s College Student (A20)