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Dramatic realism Caspar Wolf, the man who captured the raw power of the Alps

Swiss painter Caspar Wolf (1735-1783) is considered a pioneer in Alpine landscape painting. After moving to Bern, he was asked by influential local publisher Abraham Wagner to illustrate an encyclopaedic travel guide of the Swiss Alps. 

Wolf’s paintings, which do not idealise life in the wild mountains but instead reflect reality, can now be seen in Basel’s Museum of Fine Arts. 

Wolf, who was born in canton Aargau and who died in the German city of Heidelberg, had a naturalistic style and developed independent formulations for mountain ranges and glaciers, waterfalls and caves, bridges, rushing streams, lakes and high plateaus. His images enable viewers to perceive the mountains in a dramatic, sensory way. 

Albrecht von Haller, a Swiss anatomist who in 1729 wrote the epic poem “The Alps”, was a fan of Wolf’s new way of looking at the unwelcoming, hostile landscape. He noted that “in the beautiful Wolfian view, one sees the water of a stream dissolving into the mist”. 

The exhibition, “Caspar Wolf and the aesthetic conquest of nature”, shows how his paintings had a lasting influence on the visual communication of the Alps at the end of the 18th century. The 126 works of Wolf and his contemporaries are on display until February 1.