Mountaineer, Artist, Scientist…

Gabriel Loppe
A painting by Gabriel Loppe…my new idol.

In the 19th century those guys did it all. You weren’t just a miserable, demented, and broke painter; you were an exhilarated, adventure-seeking, hungry for knowledge artist with a desire to share your findings with the world.

When my family and I recently took a trip to Chamonix, France, we skied our butts off. One day, our fifth day in a row of cruising the finest snow covered slabs of rock the Alps has to offer, we decided to end the day early and take a stroll through town. Our walk landed us at the Musee Alpin. It’s a moderately sized museum-gallery that has an adorable collection of artifacts from the early years of mountaineering and natural sciences. At this particular time they also happen to be showing a collection of paintings by Gabriel Loppe.

Gabriel Loppe, born 1825 died 1913, was an accomplished painter, photographer, and mountaineer. He hung out in the wilds of France and Switzerland…the wilds being those of an urban as well as un-urban nature. He loved to photograph city scenery. He is most famed for his photograph of the Eiffel Tower being struck by lightning. It hangs in the Musée d’Orsay.

Mountains and Snow
No chairlifts here…only ice like shark’s teeth.

As much as I love Paris; more significant in my life are Loppe’s landscapes. In his exploration of the mountains, glaciers, lakes, and all things (generally) outdoors he documented many of his gorgeous (and breathtaking) findings with a paintbrush and a canvas instead of a camera. I am grateful to him for these efforts. As simple as it may be to take a picture, the viewer is far more rewarded when the artist-scientist shares his findings by hand as opposed to machine.

In touring the collection of his works I was captivated by his use of color. His mountains were majestic; his glaciers mystical. I’ve never witnessed a landscape artist make ice interpretations in such beautiful shades of blue, and green, and turquoise. I took his use of color to heart. I hope to incorporate his genius (of color palette) into my own mountain studies. And although I came back from my Chamonix trip full of new snapshots of chairlifts and trams and gondolas; I also have an arsenal of my own backcountry shots.

Who knows.

I may be forced to lay off the lifts in favor of painting glaciers….

On e thing that I read from Loppe that I found particularly inspirational was in a letter he wrote to Gustave Eiffel…

“For you, Sir, who created the most unusual and modern monument; the only monument to give me that feeling of immense space, of variety, of the delicacy and the radiance of the Paris sky, of this atmosphere which the factory chimneys have not made dirty with their smoke, and which envelopes the Paris landscape with such artistic harmony and charm.”

Loppe wrote this to accompany a print of his famed photograph as a gift to Eiffel. Personally, this quote makes me see the Eiffel Tower in a new light. For someone who has climbed so high and taken in the surroundings and spirituality that exist in the vastness of being on top of a mountain, to compliment an urban distraction so highly, it speaks volumes on its impact. In retrospect however, it is easy to see an artist (or documentarian, or musician) giving the public exactly what they are longing for. It’s times like these that you realize the ability a true artist has to reach people’s souls.