Motifs and Moods in Danish Landscape Painting around 1800

From 3 March to 29 May 2011

The exhibition The Evening Land sees Danish landscape painting from c. 1780 to 1810 in a completely new light. In painting their landscapes, artists such as Jens Juel, Erik Pauelsen and the young Eckersberg had much more on their minds than art history has hitherto assumed. And we in a later age can see that something more was certainly going on and that the old world order with its fossilized society, lack of freedom and absolutism was coming to an end.

Agricultural Reforms and Landscape Painting

The most important new step in the period around 1800 and one at the very centre of the preoccupation with the Danish landscape paintings of the time, was the major agricultural reforms carried through with great energy by the young Crown Prince Frederik (later King Frederik VI) and a group of gifted advisers. Within an amazingly short time, in the 20 years from 1788, 60% of Danish farms were transformed from copyhold to freehold. Before this, only 1% of farmers had owned their own land.

A principal theme in the exhibition is the way in which landscape painting reflects and plays an active role in the significance these agricultural reforms had for the country. And both the artists and those commissioning their work were well aware of what the programmatic contents of the portrayal of landscape in art should be.

The original element in Danish landscape art at the end of the 18th century is not to be found in the form, but in the ability of the motifs – and the contents – to express the paradigmatic change from a constricting, static order to the liberation of the peasantry with the agricultural reforms and a belief in a new golden age. An age that was to be golden for the whole of society and not merely the term used by a far later time for Danish art from the 1820s to the 1840s. The beauty of the landscape from c. 1780 to 1810 is seen as residing in its utility value and in landscape as the general setting for people’s activities.

The period finds artistic expression primarily in portrayals of the landscape by Jens Juel and Erik Pauelsen. But early landscapes by C.W. Eckersberg, Elias Meyer and Peter Cramer and drawings by the young Bertel Thorvaldsen and S.L. Lange are included in the exhibition.

Among other things, this exhibition shows a number of absolutely outstanding works in the landscape art of the period, among them Jens Juel’s Landscape with Farm, Eigaard near Ordrup, During a Gathering Storm from the 1790s and his last work in this genre, The Dance Hill from 1800. And it is clear from these works that neither Juel nor the other artists of the time wished to portray the landscape soberly or value-free. The paintings are full of meaning.

Happy Land and Evening Land

However, the belief in a glorious new future suddenly vanishes when Denmark is forced to abandon its neutrality in the European wars. Copenhagen is bombed by the English in 1807, and the State goes bankrupt in 1813. And the landscape art of that time is forgotten by the art history of a later age to the advantage of what we call “the art of the Golden Age”. But it is very enlightening now to see the landscape paintings from c. 1780 to 1810 with new eyes. All good art is an answer to the reality in which the artist finds himself, and the research that is presented in the comprehensive catalogue accompanying the exhibition shows that Danish landscape painting from about 1800 was no exception to the rule. Society was changing, and the paintings say this very plainly.

The exhibition is arranged by director Stig Miss.

The exhibition will be shown in Funen Art Museum from 23 June
to 23 October, 2011.

Jens Juel: Landskab med en bondegård, Eigaard ved Ordrup, under optrækkende uvejr, 1790’erne. Statens Museum for Kunst, SMK Foto.
Jens Juel: A Storm Brewing behind a Farmhouse in Zealand. 1790’s.
National Gallery of Denmark.

Jens Juel: Dansebakken, 1800. Statens Museum for Kunst, SMK Foto.
Jens Juel: The Dancing Glade at Sorgenfri, North of Copenhagen. 1800.
National Gallery of Denmark.

Jens Juel: Udsigt over Lillebælt fra et højdedrag ved Middelfart, ca. 1800. Thorvaldsens Museum.
Jens Juel: View of the Little Belt from a hill near Middelfart, Funen, c. 1800. Thorvaldsens Museum.

Erik Pauelsen: Æresstøtte for J. H. E. Bernstorff på Gentofte Bakke, 1788. Statens Museum for Kunst, SMK Foto.
Erik Pauelsen: The Obelisk erected in Honour of the Statesman J.H.E. Bernstorff in Gentofte, North of Copenhagen. 1788. National Gallery of Denmark.

C.W. Eckersberg: Landskab med stente, Møn, antagelig 1810. Statens Museum for Kunst, SMK Foto.
C.W. Eckersberg: Landscape with Stile.
The Isle of Møen, 1810.
National Gallery of Denmark.

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