Wednesday, 4 September 2013

19th Century Danish national art stands comparison with the best in Europe at the time

I've been enjoying Patricia G. Berman's impressive book, In Another Light: Danish Painting in the Nineteenth Century" (available here), from which the picture above - Christen Købke's snappilly titled View from Dosseringen at lake Sortedam towards Nørrebro (1838) - is taken. I love the subtle colours and the sublimely peaceful atmosphere. Unlike, say, Norwegian paintings, you won't find many dramatic landscapes in Danish art - mainly because most of the country's as flat as a pancake (something I suspect must puzzle many first-time visitors, who might have been expecting dramatic mountains reflected in glassy fjords).

Maybe it's because my family hails from a flattish region of Southern Norway, near the Swedish border (from the late 1800s, at least - we probably originated in Finland, where Grønmark is a fairly common name), but I've always felt at ease in Denmark. When I did some work for their equivalent of the BBC I attended a mass meeting of staff in Copenhagen and at least half the blokes there seemed to be bearded, well over 6ft tall, bespectacled and somewhat overweight - It's not often I don't look out of place.

Despite the impression you may have gleaned from The Killing, Danes are fairly jolly, and do a nice line in sarcasm - especially compared to other Scandiavians. Let's face it, if P.S. Krøyer's Hip, Hip, Hurrah! (1888) featured Norwegian painters instead of Danes, half of the attendees would be sitting in a glum alcoholic funk rather than joining in the general merriment (well, it's pretty unlikely there'd be much general merriment):

Here, in no partcular order, are more of my favourite paintings from the book. They have little in common apart from a powerful sense of place, and many of them seem surprisingly modern given the era in which they were created (especially Lundbye startlingly-coloured pond, Ring's psychologically-charged painting of a rural railway worker watching the modern world steaming towards him, and the bright dilapidation of Sødring's Marble Square). Taken together, they represent a national art as fine as any in Europe at that time:

Frederik Sødring, View of Marble Square with the Uncompleted Frederik's Church (1835)
Johan Thomas Lundbye, View of a Pond (1838)
Michael Ancher, Taking the Lifeboat Through the Dunes (1883)
Holger Drachmann, Storm Surge, Falster (1872)
L.A. Ring, The Lineman (1884)
Vilhelm Hammershøi, Interior, Strandgade 30 (1908)

1 comment:

  1. An illuminating post. Thanks.The painting featuring the Danish flag [the "Dannebrog"]reminded me of a characteristic shared by Scandinavians and Americans - the pride they take in displaying their national flags on a private level. When was the last time you saw a flag-pole in a British garden with a Union Jack fluttering away? Why should this be so? Haven't the foggiest.