Larvik by Moonlight

  • Artist: Johan Christian Dahl
  • Creation date: 1839
  • Object type: Painting


Along with its pendant, Hellefossen near Hokksund, the painting was meant to decorate the Royal Palace in Christiania, but was instead purchased by the recently founded National Gallery.

Johan Christian Dahl was almost without exception an out-and-out landscape painter. But within this genre he depicted a wide range of motifs, spanning from the idyllic to the intensely dramatic and (to use a typical catchword from his era) sublime, from the open fields of Denmark to the jagged coastal cliffs of Italy to the mountains, fjords, and narrow dales of Norway. One of Dahl’s specialities was moonlit landscapes, inspired not least by the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Aert van der Neer. Dahl’s paintings of Copenhagen and Dresden bathed in moonlight demonstrate the importance of this motif in his oeuvre.

The composition of Larvik by Moonlight is based on a drawing that Dahl executed during a visit there in 1834. The small coastal town is depicted on a gorgeous summer’s eve, where the moonlight’s reflection on the serene waters of the fjord creates a sense of harmony. The figures in the foreground, standing as silhouettes against the silvery, sparkling water, reinforce the impression of contemplative silence. They bring to mind the figures in Caspar David Friedrich’s paintings that stand with their back to the viewer, but Dahl’s figures are not laden with the same symbolism, nor do the church steeple and the sailing vessels seem to convey any particular meaning. Unlike Friedrich’s portraits of a transcendental yearning for eternity, Dahl’s painting is a down-to-earth depiction of a Norwegian coastal community on a peaceful evening.

Text: Bodil Sørensen

From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0


Johan Christian Dahl

Maler og billedkunstner

Born 24.02.1788 in Bergen, death 14.10.1857 in Dresden, Tyskland

Depicted place

Work info

Creation date:
Other titles:
Larvik havn i måneskinn (NOR)
Ansicht von Larvik (GER)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
  • Height: 99.5 cm
  • Depth: 2.5 cm
  • Width: 156 cm
Motif - location:
Kjøpt av kunstneren 1839
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Larsen, Frode