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Oil painting - The Dam

The Dam

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Geneva (painted)

  • Date:

    1850 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Hornung, Joseph, born 1792 - died 1870 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Joseph Hornung (1792-1870) was born in Geneva. He took drawing lessons with Constant Vaucher but was essentially self-taught in the French Romantic tradition. He was considered the leader of the Geneva school and the most representative painter of the Reformation. He exhibited at the Salon in the Musée Rath, Geneva, as early as 1826 and subsequently at the Royal Academy, London (1839) and the Paris Salon (1831, 1840, 1841, 1843 and 1847). He was praised by the critics and Louis-Philippe and Ary Scheffer were among his admirers.

This painting is a good example of Hornung's genre scenes. It shows a group of children playing on a mountain stream with a wheel while another is removing a wooden dam. This pleasant scene is reminiscent of the Biedermeier imagery, ideologically opposed to academic and religious painting and which favoured such subject matter as portraits, landscapes and genre scenes.

Physical description

A group of children playing along a mountain stream.

Place of Origin

Geneva (painted)


1850 (painted)


Hornung, Joseph, born 1792 - died 1870 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'J. Hornung 1850'
Signed and dated by the artist, lower right


Height: 46.4 cm estimate, Width: 38 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868

Historical significance: This painting is an interesting work drawing from the Romantic tradition and the Biedermeier imagery especially vivid in Germanic Europe. The humble subject matter is typical of 19th-century Western art, which developed a new interest in rustic subject matter under the revival of the Dutch 17th-century genre pieces. Here the subject shows an episode of the daily life in the Alps of Savoy, a thematic that is largely illustrated in his genre pieces.
A number of his works are preserved in the Musée d'art et d'histoire, Geneva.

Historical context note

The term 'Biedermeier' refers to bourgeois life and art in Germanic Europe, an extensive area embracing such cities as Copenhagen, Berlin, Vienna and Prague, from 1815 (the Congress of Vienna) to the revolutions of 1848. Biedermeier painters were ideologically opposed to academic and religious painting and favoured such subject matter as portraits, landscapes and genre scenes, with still-lifes, especially of flowers. They share a similar technique in the use of separate, clear tones and a high degree of finish, reminiscent of Neo-Classicism while they tend to convey a greater sentimentality. By the 1880s, the influence of this artistic movement was on the wane and was even used pejoratively to characterize the reactionary bourgeois elements in society, which remained quite indifferent to social problems and cultivated a sense of order and sobriety, especially in the private sphere and the domestic realm.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'The Dam', Joseph Hornung, Swiss school, 1850

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 49, cat. no. 108.


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Mountains; Stream; Children; Genre scene; Dams




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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