Spurred on by the Romantic movement, Danish painting hit a purple patch in the early 19th century: a period also marked by national tragedies, from bombardment by the British in 1807 to economic collapse in 1813. With more than 200 works on display, this exhibition explores how the arts in Denmark flourished in the face of adversity. Find out more from the Statens Museum for Kunst’s website.
Preview the exhibition below | View Apollo’s Art Diary here
Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg is often called the ‘father of Danish painting’, credited with ushering in the Golden Age. A professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, he encouraged his students to complete plein air studies from nature, and in 1833 he was the first to provide students in Copenhagen with the opportunity to paint from nude models. His own intimate life studies, including this small-scale oil painting, are among his most celebrated works.
In September 1807, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the British navy bombarded Copenhagen, capturing the Danish fleet and gaining access to the sea lanes between the North Sea and the Baltic. The shelling devastated the Danish capital, as depicted here by Christian August Lorentzen – a neoclassicist precursor to the Golden Age painters.
Christen Købke, who began his training at the Royal Danish Academy at around the age of 12, was taught by both Lorentzen and Eckersberg, learning the discipline of strict observation from nature; he also came under the spell of the Romantic nationalist art historian Niels Laurits Høyen, who recommended that artists find their subjects in Danish monuments, folk culture, and the rural landscape. This composition depicts two women in traditional rural dress beside the national flag, watching a small skiff move across the Sortedam Lake.
The Danish Golden Age saw a revival of interest in Nordic mythology across the arts. This painting by Ditlev Blunck depicts the original ‘mare’ from which the word mareridt (nightmare) derives – the malicious demon of legend that rides upon the chest of the afflicted. With the disturbing sexuality of the image, Blunck – who was exiled from Denmark for homosexuality in 1841 – satirises the hypocritical prudish affectations of the Danish bourgeoisie.