Drawing up Danishness

Why is a family of 19th and early 20th century artists relevant today?

The Skovgaard Museum in Viborg answers that question in a fun, engaging and thought-provoking way,

which situates the Skovgaard family in their time as well as our own through their life experiences, acquaintances and art.

The Skovgaard Museum centres on the art and lives of Peter Christian Skovgaard and his children Joakim (1856-1933), Niels (1858-1938) and Susette (1863- 1937).

Though his name may have faded slightly from the national memory today, Peter Christian Skovgaard was one of the most important painters of Denmark’s Romanticist ‘Golden Age’.

“He was both a direct influence on his time and an interesting reflection of it,” Drawing up Danishness says museum director Anne-Mette Villumsen.

“But he didn’t just influence his own time; he and his fellow Romanticists have had a huge impact on modern Denmark.”

Peter Christian Skovgaard primarily specialised in painting the bright green beech trees that have come to be seen as quintessentially Danish.

“Before 1800, the common tree in Danish nature and art was the royal oak.

After losing the navy to the Brits, hoping to rebuild the ships, we planted the equally strong but much faster-growing beech instead.

By Skovgaard’s time, they were everywhere and could be used as a symbol of the reinvented,

democratic, small-butlovely perception of Denmark which we’ve inherited today.

That’s a direct consequence of Skovgaard and his fellow Romantics,” Villumsen reveals.

Like their father, the younger generation’s lives were deeply intertwined with Danish history. Susette, a Modernist ceramicist and painter,

became part of the women’s rights movement and fought to gain entrance to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts that both her brothers attended.

Joakim gained fame as a painter who bridged the gap between the religious, National Romantic and Modernist art of the period.

The Skovgaard Museum was founded in appreciation of his landmark decoration of the neighbouring Viborg Cathedral.

The museum’s new temporary exhibition, however, displays the younger brother’s art from museums and private collections,

Drawing up Danishness including Queen Margrethe’s.

“Niels lived in the shadows of Joakim and their father, but he was an excellent,

influential painter, ceramist and sculptor in his own right,” explains Villumsen.

Niels travelled extensively, challenging Danish artistic conventions with his enthusiasm for French impressionism; he explored light and colour in entirely new ways,

experimenting with Norwegian landscapes and variations on the same motif of Greek dancers through several decades.

Starting in June, the exhibition will allow visitors to discover Niels’ personal and artistic journey from his early

French and Dutch-inspired art to his decorative mastery of Nordic storytelling and poetic landscapes.

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