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Scandinavia House Announces Danish Paintings from the Golden Age to the Modern Breakthrough

Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America, in New York City, presents Danish Paintings from the Golden Age to the Modern Breakthrough: Selections from the Collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr on view Saturday, October 12, 2013 through Saturday, January 18, 2014.

Harald Sløtt-Moller, Summer Day, 1888. Oil on canvas, 48 ½ x 70 in.
Harald Sløtt-Moller, Summer Day, 1888. Oil on canvas, 48 ½ x 70 in.

The selection of 37 works traces key developments in Danish painting from the late neoclassical, to the romantic, to the early modern eras–a period of unprecedented artistic creativity that saw the emergence of a distinctive national school of Danish painting.

Organized by The American-Scandinavian Foundation (ASF), the exhibition is drawn exclusively from the private collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr., regarded as the finest collection of Danish paintings outside Scandinavia. Highlights include an outstanding group of works by Vilhelm Hammershøi, the most celebrated of all early Danish modernists, as well as important paintings by Nicolai Abildgaard, Anna and Michael Ancher, Christen Købke, P.S. Krøyer, and L.A. Ring, among others. Scandinavia House will be the exclusive venue for this exhibition, which remains on view through January 18, 2014.

Edward P. Gallagher, ASF president, states: “It is only in the past few decades that Danish painting has begun to receive the international recognition and study it so richly deserves. In America, there is today no more enthusiastic and astute admirer of the glories of Danish painting than Ambassador Loeb, whose superb collection of Danish masters we showcase in the present exhibition. We are extremely grateful to the Ambassador for sharing these treasures with our public, and for enabling the ASF to further its mission of celebrating the cultural achievements of the Nordic countries in such an important way.”

Danish Paintings from the Golden Age to the Modern Breakthrough: Selections from the Collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr. focuses on the extraordinary outburst of artistic creativity that occurred in Denmark from the 1790s to the 1920s, as successive generations of Danish painters sought to create a national school that would rival those of France, Germany, and England. The works on view document the full richness and variety of this period, beginning with important examples of neo-classically inspired history paintings and portraits from the 1780s and 90s by artists such as Nicolai Abildgaard and Jens Juel. Christen Købke’s portrait of Bertel Thorvaldsen (c. 1828) pays homage to Denmark’s greatest neoclassical sculptor, while an exuberant still life (c. 1833) by J.L. Jensen is an early example of the enduring importance of Dutch 17th-century painting in the development of Danish art.

Works from the 1810s to 1850s, the so-called “Golden Age” of Danish painting, reflect the conscious rejection of academic neoclassicism in favor of a new nationalistic art that celebrated the land and its people. Its legacy includes Christen Dalsgaard’s charming image of a young girl writing (1871) and romanticized views of the Danish countryside by Vilhelm Kyhn and J. Th. Lundbye epitomize the idealizing and unabashedly patriotic approach typical of the Golden Age painters. By contrast, L. A. Ring’s Harvest (1886), in which a rural laborer (the artist’s brother) wields his heavy scythe in the hot sun, presents a markedly less idyllic view of rural life, presaging the social realism embraced by many turn-of-the-century Danish painters.

The final section of the exhibition explores the varied responses to modernist innovations at home and abroad-a phenomenon collectively known as “the Modern Breakthrough.” The enormous impact of French Impressionism, with its free brushwork, brilliant effects of light, and emphasis on subjects from everyday life, is apparent in works such as Otto Bache’s sparkling view of Flag Day in Copenhagen (after 1892); Laurits Tuxen’s Collecting Mussels at Low Tide at Le Portel, France (1888); and Harald Slott-Møller’s Summer Day (1888). The exhibition also includes a number of works by the influential husband-and-wife painters Michael and Anna Ancher, who participated in an important artists colony at Skagen Beach, in northern Denmark, where they and their fellow painters excelled in plein air views of the town’s beach and fisher folk. Perhaps the most successful and still best known of the Danish Naturalists was P.S. Krøyer, represented by a vibrant self-portrait (1902) of the artist at his easel on Skagen Beach.

The exhibition culminates with a remarkable group of seven works by Vilhelm Hammershøi, the greatest and yet most enigmatic of Danish modernists. A far cry from the chromatic brilliance of the Danish Impressionists, Hammershøi’s austere and radically simplified landscapes and interiors owe much to Vermeer as well as to Whistler and the Symbolist movement. Interior, Strandgade 30 (1899) is one of several works on view devoted to the artist’s favorite motif: a room in his Copenhagen apartment in which a somberly clad woman–the artist’s wife–quietly performs a domestic task. For many, these restrained, nearly monochrome paintings, with their subtle explorations of light and mood of psychological introspection, exemplify the unique qualities and character of modernist Danish art.

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