The democratic space of the forest and other national motifs in the work of P.C. Skovgaard

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1 the democratic space of the forest On 10th June 1842 the wedding of the stockbroker H.C. Aggersborg ( ) to Dorothea Elisabeth Bræmer ( ) was celebrated. The festivities were held privately in Aggersborg s winter residence at Holmens Kanal, then as now in central Copenhagen. Although the wedgertrud oelsner The democratic space of the forest and other national motifs in the work of P.C. Skovgaard Translated from Danish by James Manley You would like to know what works I have in progress; I am only gathering material for works; I paint chiefly around and about inside the forest; there are wonderful tall trees that stand individually, or gather in voluminous groups and closelypacked masses, now and then with a view, between the trunks, of the lovely Nærum Valley; it is especially delightful in the afternoon; now there is fine green grass for the forest floor, now great clusters of raspberries, ferns and willow-herb in bloom, and finally charming, light, young forest; this is more than can be painted, so it is no matter if other countries have even more beautiful landscapes. 1 Extract from a letter from P.C. Skovgaard to Orla Lehmann, 25th July 1853 As a statesman you must not educate the people; no more than I believe that as a father you should educate your daughter by reading Byron and Dante to her. 2 Extract from a letter from A.F. Tscherning in a letter to Orla Lehmann, 9th December 1856 When love calls 1

2 gertrud oelsner fig. 1. P.C. Skovgaard, Højerup Church on the Cliffs of Stevns, Zealand, Oil on canvas, cm. Statens Museum for Kunst. Photo: SMK Foto 2

3 the democratic space of the forest ding feast had been located in inner Copenhagen, images of the Danish natural and cultural heritage helped to create a special framework around the feast. Aggersborg was the uncle of the Danish Golden Age painter P.C. Skovgaard ( ); and although he was only five years older than the painter, he had already made a substantial fortune trading in securities, and with his financial solidity he functioned as a lifelong patron of his nephew. 3 For his wedding, for example, he had commissioned a series of three large works with Danish landscape subjects, and in the course of the spring of 1842, with his good friend J.Th. Lundbye ( ), Skovgaard created the suite of works that must today be counted among the most important examples of the National-Romantic turn that art in Denmark was to take towards the mid-nineteenth century. The three pictures that graced the feast were Højerup Church at Stevns Klint, 1842 painted by Skovgaard, fig. 1; The Goose Tower in Vordingborg, 1842, fig. 2, painted by Lundbye on the basis of a drawing and watercolour by Skovgaard (1); and View from Frederiksborg Castle, 1842, fig. 3, painted by Skovgaard. Thus although the subjects are three striking Danish buildings, the pictures were by no means true architectural views; for the three works are as much landscape paintings, a genre that had begun to present a serious challenge to the status of the otherwise dominant history painting as the most important painterly genre of the age. In the summer of 1842 the love of the two spouses-to-be was held up against the patriotic love of one s country, which in those very years was the most important political issue. (1): The Goose Tower, Vordingborg. 22nd June Royal Collection of Graphic Art, Statens Museum for Kunst An urban view of the landscape However, another logic was also inherent in the use of scenes from the Danish land scape as part of the setting for the Aggersborg wedding. For, somewhat surprisingly, the emergence of landscape painting can be linked closely with the establishment of urban civilization. 4 The landscape thus first becomes a theme in western European art at the same time as true urban centres arise, and a larger group of people, as a result of changed living conditions and occupations, no longer has a functionally determined relationship with nature. The sheltering context of the city formed the framework for a free, aesthetic gaze at nature, which could now be viewed as landscape; indeed it is characteristic that in the years up to the mid-nineteenth century, when metropoles were increasingly taking form, the landscape became an increasingly popular subject. 5 People who were no longer dependent on the caprices and conditions of nature could disinterestedly view nature as landscape. 3

4 gertrud oelsner fig. 2. J.Th. Lundbye, The Goose Tower in Vordingborg, Zealand, Oil on canvas, cm. Statens Museum for Kunst. Photo: SMK Foto 4

5 the democratic space of the forest If we view Skovgaard s and Lundbye s joint decoration in a context that extends the perspective beyond the obviously family-related explanation, it makes sense that Aggersborg, with his residence in central Copenhagen, would have an eye for the potential and qualities of landscape painting; an inclination he could also accommodate in other ways, as he lived for parts of the year at his summer residence in Classens Have, Østerbro (2), a still-rural area that the rapidly growing Copenhagen had not yet turned into an integral part of the city. 6 Aggersborg was thus a representative of a bourgeoisie whose relationship with nature had changed, and who now viewed it as an aesthe tic, enjoyable object. But as will become clear, the landscape and landscape painting not only formed an aesthetically oriented category; in time it was also invested with political potential, and this is where we must seek much of the explanation of landscape painting s popularity in the years around the mid-nineteenth century, not least among the National- Liberal politicians of the era. It therefore seems quite reasonable to link the maturing of the landscape genre with the emergence of the bourgeoisie, which since the end of the eighteenth century had gradually asserted its importance and position at the expense of the absolute monarchy and the aristocracy and their different pictorial requirements, which inclined more to the heavily symbolic, often allegorical history painting. Visual art has always played such a role as a political medium; down through the ages those in power have used paintings as a stage for their own power politics; and in this connection landscape painting has a long tradition behind it. Presumably the most obvious example in this respect is the large frescoes from in the city hall in Siena, where Ambrogio Lorenzetti ( ) characterizes good and bad government respectively, both interpreted in a landscape context. Several centuries later the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau ( ) was still preoccupied with the issues of mankind s inequality and moral depravation, and in his Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men from 1754, Rousseau claims that if we deprive mankind of all the developments and benefits that progress has brought, and thus return him to his original state of nature, then inequality will no longer exist. Rousseau, the originator of the veritable wave that made the Romantic intelli gen tsia of Europe long for a return to nature, thus links pristine, unspoiled nature with human freedom and equality. Alongside Rousseau s thinking, the ideas of the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder ( ) on the close bonds between people, language and nation won a broad response in the period. The many national monuments, beech forests and natural scenery in the art of the Danish Gold- (2): Aggersborg s Villa in Classen s Garden, Copenhagen, Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen 5

6 gertrud oelsner fig. 3. P.C. Skovgaard, View from Frederiksborg Castle, Oil on canvas, cm. Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. Photo: Pernille Klemp 6

7 the democratic space of the forest en Age thus draw on a long tradition of political, radical and republican as well as aesthetic thinking about the political potential of the landscape and nature. Three national monuments: Denmark s proud past Not only was the genesis and context of the Aggersborg suite unusual, although it coin cided with a broader framework of understanding in the history of mentalities; the motivic focus of the trilogy and the realized format were extraordinary: church, defensive installation and castle, in sizes averaging c cm. Bourgeois self-esteem was riding high at Holmens Kanal 4 that summer! Against the background of typical Danish landscapes from northern, eastern and southern Zealand respectively, two medieval and one Renaissance complex in the form of medieval defensive works, a Romanesque church structure and a Royal Renaissance building were to form the setting for the wedding, and were to grace the walls in the future: the Goose Tower is set in an epitome of the Danish agrarian landscape: gently rolling countryside with a few bushes and atmospheric trees, ducks and geese grubbing and cackling in the pond, the original Danish red-and-white race of dairy cows grazing on the banks, and farms and houses discreetly poking their roofs out from behind foliage and hilltop. This beautification of the Danish countryside is of course crowned by the Goose Tower at the top of the hill where the inclusive sweep of the road comes to an end. Landscape and proud medieval history are interlocked in one great nature-determined embrace. Two men at the foot of the tower, along with the discreet worm s-eye view, give the building considerable dimensions, beautifully summed up by a painter who had not in fact seen the subject with his own eyes: Today I have begun on the picture I am to paint for Skovgaard s uncle, showing the Goose Tower at Vordingborg, after a drawing by Skovgaard; I am looking forward to this work, which can be dealt with lightly and broadly, Lundbye notes on 18th April 1842 in his diary. 7 As early as 3rd May he can note: My painting, the Goose Tower, is now almost finished and is more of a success than I would have believed possible; it has enlivened and delighted me. 8 And finally, on 26th May, the two artists are able to put the finishing touches to the work: Now the hall is finished at Skovgaard s uncle s; for three days Skovgaard and I have worked strenuously down there, but how well it has succeeded I do not know; I will not answer for more 7

8 gertrud oelsner than the things I have painted, which will be hard enough to defend to a strict judge like Høyen. As a whole, I have no opinion of it; I do think, though, that there is life and delight in the treatment now we shall get to hear what people will say. 9 The Goose Tower is the only preserved tower from King Valdemar Atterdag s medie val castle complex, built according to tradition after 1364 as a defence against the southern Hanseatic cities. 10 Given its associations with Valdemar Atterdag s efforts to unite the Danish kingdom, the Goose Tower became a suitable subject at a time when the United Monarchy was breaking up; Norway had been ceded in 1814, and in the 1840s the relationship of the Schleswig-Holstein duchies with Denmark was a festering political issue and the object of great popular attention. Skovgaard s own work, Højerup Church at Stevns Klint, 1842, probably hung to the left of the picture of the Goose Tower, the only one of the three pictures that has no straight horizon line and therefore stands out compositionally as an obvious centrepiece between the other two works. Like the latter, the Stevns Klint picture is also built up around a curved composition, which here has the function of emphasizing the impressive cliff landscape, with few parallels in Denmark. At the front the cliff drops sheer to the sea, and its white chalk formations can be followed as far as the eye can see into the picture. A good distance into the picture-space, the medieval Højerup Church (c ) hides away, well protected by trees and the surrounding churchyard wall, but with the chancel and the outermost part of the churchyard wall balancing on the edge of the cliff. The area in front of the church is grazed by a small flock of sheep, and in the immediate foreground of the picture runs a path that leads from the church down to the beach. As viewers we are invited along on a rolling, challenging progression from the medieval, cultivated space of the church, across the long historical span evidenced by the cliff, to the beach, where the Baltic incessantly gnaws its way into the cliff day by day an inexorable fact that the artist underscores with the two fishermen working on the narrow beach with their boat, just as the artist measures the smallness of mankind against the enormous span of 65 million years from top to bottom in the strata of cliff sedimentation. 11 A common feature of the pictures in the suite is that it seems to be high summer in all of them; so within the trilogy as a whole there is no question of a progression in time, even one that would count as nothing against the huge span of time evidenced by the exposed geological strata. This is worth noting, given that time as such was otherwise becoming a basic theme of modern landscape painting, where sunlight, clouds, seasons etc. were important focuses of landscape art. 12 Skov- 8

9 the democratic space of the forest gaard s work seems to be tuned in permanently to summer as an enduring state; yet the exposed geological strata underline the interest of the artist in the subject, although the perspective has been greatly widened and the geology thus marks time as a stratified historical continuum. 13 In the last work of the trilogy, View from Frederiksborg Castle, 1842, the focus is neither the Middle Ages, the age of the Valdemars nor the ancient past of Denmark, but the most beautiful castle that northern Europe possesses. 14 The castle was of great interest to the scholars of the time. In 1815 the philologist and historian Christian Molbech ( ) came past Frederiksborg Castle; and the following little extract from his enthusiastic account of the building gives a fine impression of the importance the castle was assigned at the time: Now this glorious building lay ancient and venerable in the midst of young, bright nature [...] The castle, which like an old man full of virile strength still preserved its distinctive character. 15 But it was not only the sight that met Molbech on his arrival that fired his enthusiasm; the views from within the castle were also captivating: I was lured to the windows and the wonderful, lovely view across the lake [...] Yesterday, with the afternoon sun and the clear spring sky, it was so entirely charming that more than once I had to confess that this view is one of the finest things the castle possesses. 16 The picturesque view of the beautiful landscape, its exemplary framing by the window as a lookout point, were Molbech s fondest memories of the visit to Frederiksborg Castle, and it is in fact the castle framing a view of the landscape that Skovgaard brings into sharp focus in his monumental version of the building. Molbech s enthusiastic gaze was in a way also a guideline for the learned N.L. Høyen ( ), who enthused fifteen years later over the views offered by the castle in terms closely related to Skovgaard s interpretation: And we soon note that all the most magnificent rooms have been placed where the most beautiful view of the surroundings invites us to enjoy the scene all the more; outbuildings and oriel windows hanging on the wall like marvellous glass cabinets increase this enjoyment with the freedom they afford to abandon ourselves in undisturbed comfort to the quiet, pleasing mood in which a rich, beautiful landscape so easily puts us. The low placing of the castle also permits a lush woodland area to the north and north west to appear in greatly varied forms which powerfully attract the eye across the deep surface of the lake, and which form the most marvel lous contrast with the view one sees from the windows and the galleries in the castle courtyard. 17 9

10 gertrud oelsner (3): View from Frederiksborg Castle, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek The continuation of the article was written to follow up on the interest that Høyen had shown for some years in the castle, and was the result of the inspection tours he made, supported by the Ad Usus Publicos fund in the years 1829, 1830, 1832 and In 1831 Høyen was given the task of reordering and registering the Art Collection at Frederiksborg Castle. His article appeared in Dansk Ugeskrift, which was edited by Skovgaard s future father-in-law, the botanist J.F. Schouw ( ). 18 In general there was a focus on the castle at the beginning of the nineteenth century; a fact that is evident not least from the increasing number of works which, as a result of the growing interest of the age in the historical roots of the country, were associated with the study of national monuments. 19 The preparations for this part of the trilogy seem to have been more extensive than for the other works. Thus both a pen drawing (fig. 3) and a smallish oil study (3) came to form the basis of the large work for the hall; this was incidentally owned in 1847 by the National-Liberal politician and theologian D.G. Monrad ( ). 20 Unlike the two preceding pictures, in this case Skovgaard has brought the archi tec ture more into the foreground, although there is no question of architectural painting of a representative character; 21 for that the angle is too oblique and unusual, with the diagonally placed castle chapel in foreshortened perspective farthest to the right, while the masonry of the foreground towards Badstueparken frames the view towards the domesticated park landscape of the background with its mirror-smooth water and leafy-crowned trees. A walking couple convey the effortless transition from Danish architec ture to Danish landscape, which fuse together here in a totality. 22 The angle of gaze at the landscape distinguishes this work from the two preceding ones; whereas the perspective in these works alternates between a slightly worm s-eye view and normal perspective, the landscape here is viewed from a higher point, of the type familiar from the prospect and cartography genres that could use this device to map and order a large area of land. But although Skovgaard appears to have made use of this pictorial matrix, the thesis that nature obeys certain inherent geometrical laws is dismantled by the embedded obstacles that the artist s framing gaze has given the picture. The slightly skewed angle of gaze already undermines the cartographic approach by means of which the castle building is brought into foreshortened focus. The gaze cannot take in the forest expanse on the other side of Badstuedammen, nor is it able to encompass a large stretch of land, since its movement into the picture space is obstructed by the dense foliage of the trees. The idea of the picture as a scenic space in which mankind can act is not Skovgaard s concern, even 10

11 the democratic space of the forest if there is human presence in all three works. Its role seems rather to be to create a link between nature and culture that gives the landscape both human and historical value. The three works were created for the hall, which was the largest room in the residence, fig. 4, 23 and which besides the three works discussed here was decorated with wild flowers along the panels and a frieze of wild birds along the ceiling, while the doors were ornamented with small decorative pictures of among other animals snails, storks and foxes. 24 Together the decorations embraced the whole of Danish nature, here in its Zealand incarnation: the microscopically accurate though decoratively arranged close-ups of the Danish flora and fauna, combined with small illustrative and edifying motifs, all ensconced in magnificent fig. 4. Ground plan of Holmens Kanal 4. 11

12 gertrud oelsner Pompeiian room decorations a style of living popular at the time among artists and free-thinking citizens. Over the ages landscape painting has been closely associated with issues of territorial demarcation, political solidarity and constitutional ideals, and the historical horizon for the creation of the works is not insignificant either in this connection. Denmark was still a monarchy, but although that form of government was still intact, the internal borders and geography of the country had been subjected to pressures and tensions. The idea of the United Mon archy, which with the ceding of Norway in 1815 had suffered its first knock, and the unrest concerning the relationship and links of the southern duchies with Denmark, were making the constitutional joints creak loudly. The smouldering political unrest that con stantly preoccupied Skovgaard therefore forms an important framework of under stan ding for the three works and their latent political and national meaning. Political upheavals As a substitute for the shattered United Monarchy, the Scandinavist movement was a strong current of the age. The Scandinavian Society was formed in 1843 with cultural personalities, scientists and politicians including Schouw, Høyen, Martin Hammerich ( ), Carl Ploug ( ) and Orla Lehmann ( ) as the driving forces. In this forum, ideas of Scandinavism were nurtured as a cultural and political counter-measure to the ongoing conflicts with Germany over the affiliations of the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein with Denmark. The Scandinavian cause resonated with Romantic philosophy as formulated by among others Herder, and further developed by the brothers Grimm. 25 Herder formulated the idea that there is a close bond between people, language and nation, and thus laid the foundation for the National Romanticism that was to become a pronounced current in visual art from the 1840s on. Herder claimed that the nation left its stamp on the population, which, under the influence of history, geographical characteristics, culture and language, could be isolated as a specific, characteristic unit that had a special relationship with the country of its birth and ancestors. Thoughts like these were hardly alien to either Skovgaard or Lundbye, both of whom frequented the Scandinavian Society, or to the man who commissioned the suite of paintings, Aggersborg. It can thus be assumed with some justification that the suite with the works Stevns Klint, The Goose Tower and Frederiksborg Castle consisted of well-considered subjects; they had been carefully chosen for their exemplary representation of 12

13 the democratic space of the forest the intimate connection between nation, nature, culture, history and population. The trilogy exudes national self-esteem and pride, and as a whole represents the first culmination of National-Romantic landscape painting in Den mark. In the first period of the Golden Age, the bulk of the works by among others C.W. Eckersberg ( ), Christen Købke ( ), Wilhelm Bendz ( ) and Martinus Rørbye ( ) were associated with the close local geography of Copenhagen, with Eckersberg s Møn suite as the exception that proves the rule. But Skovgaard s generation, which also included Lundbye and the Funen painter Dankvart Dreyer ( ), added the rest of Denmark to the pictorial map: Zealand outside Copenhagen, Funen and Jutland frequently provided subjects for the brushes of the painters, and Lundbye s declared ambition, to paint beloved Denmark, 26 also became that of the rest of the generation. This new geographical horizon was undoubtedly shared by Aggersborg as a member of the Royal Danish Geographical Society. The ground prepared With Skovgaard, Lundbye, Dreyer and the generation to which they belonged, land scape painting took over the agenda of Danish art in earnest. The painting of landscapes and views was just one of many subjects in the first decades of the nineteenth century, but slowly but surely landscape painting gained ground at the expense of the otherwise popular history painting of the time, which no longer accorded with the selfunderstanding of the new National-Liberal bourgeoisie. However, the ground for the success of landscape painting had been prepared over a long period. Jens Juel ( ) had for example already taken up landscape painting, and apparently not only for pleasure and in idle moments, as he himself normally characterized his landscape activities. And Juel was already politicizing his landscapes with ill-concealed allegorical representations of the conditions of the rural population before and after the great agrarian reforms of 1788 (4). 27 In the spirit of the times, Juel s pictures were usually picturesque set pieces created in the artificial light of the studio and with copse forest which, in this ideal form, did not emphasize the botanically correct rendering, but rather a general synthesis of the foliage as well as other devices belonging to the profession. This approach to landscape painting can still be traced in Juel s pupil Eckersberg in when he painted the so-called Møn suite, a total of 14 works commissioned by the Royal Chamberlain Christopher von Bülow ( ) for Nordfeld Manor, fig. 5. (4): View of the Little Belt from a Hill near Middelfart, Funen, c Thorvaldsens Museum 13

14 gertrud oelsner fig. 5. C.W. Eckersberg, Møns Klint. View of Sommerspiret, Oil on canvas, cm. Fuglsang Kunstmuseum. Photo: Ole Akhøj But Møn had more to offer than the impressive chalk cliffs; the landscape garden around the small country seat Liselund was also worth a visit. The garden had been laid out in 1792 by Antoine de la Calmette ( ) and Anne Elisabeth Catharine Iselin, called Lisa ( ), in the new Romantic style of the period, where nature was staged as a wild, natural landscape; a style which with its apparently carefree and casual arrangement of natural elements and exotic cultural artefacts such as Swiss chalets, Chinese pagodas, Polynesian straw huts, Norwegian log cabins and small temples, bore within it an immanent offensive against the preceding Baroque garden style, whose poker-straight tree-lined avenues radiated from the main building, and thus served to render visible and underscore the centre of power with references to powerpreserving military formations, 28 just as the view through the long avenues gave the gaze an unimpeded overview of the extensive lands often associated with the estates, manors and castles of the time. Antoine de la Calmette, who had done his homework thoroughly and studied the currents of the age, primarily on the European mainland, had the architect Andreas Kirkerup ( ) build the small pleasure palace in 1792 and had the complex called after his beloved wife, Lisa. Liselund s Romantic landscape garden was a challenge to the Absolutist type of garden art; in the Romantic garden, the landscape was viewed as 14

15 the democratic space of the forest a symbol of freedom, where the various objects could be arranged freely and uninhibitedly in accordance with the laws of the landscape itself. 29 Liselund was an obligatory set piece for all painters when their travels took them to Møn, which in addition attracted many domestic tourists. These included Molbech, who found his way to Møn during his walking tour around Denmark, an account of which was published in with the title Ung domsvandringer i mit fødeland. Molbech s work was written at the urging of Johan von Bülow ( ) of Sanderumgaard, an uncle of Christopher von Bülow at Nordfeld. Molbech s work must be mentioned here because it is an important antecedent of the National- Romantic turn taken by Danish visual art towards the 1840s. He was a traveller in the tradition of the sentimental journey, 30 and his mission was not to give precise topographical descriptions of what he saw on his travels, but to convey the inner moods that the experiences produced in him along the way. Molbech s work is one of the first Danish examples where the landscape is assigned special aesthetic and experiential meaning, and a primary determinant of his round tour was the ancient national monuments of the country as well as the beauty and grandeur of the landscape. It is the encounter with the past in the form of either monuments or landscapes that awakens patriotic feeling in him, and as a crucially new feature, nature and specific landscape experiences thus become constitutive of the concept of the fatherland. In the nineteenth century the idea gained ground that the world is divided into specific national landscapes, each with its own characteristics; it is thus the places where Danish greatness and history thrive and are vitally embodied that Molbech seeks out. In that sense he prepared the ground for the understanding of the National-Romantic landscape that we find expressed by Skovgaard and his generation, who were furthermore influenced by Høyen, the chief art-historical ideologue of the age and the most important standard-bearer of National-Romantic art. Like Molbech, Høyen was convinced that the memory of the slumbering past had to be aroused; once the past was held up as a mirror for the present, national feeling and pride would be awakened: A greater, more meaningful battleground opens up for him, where it is not only a matter of developing talent and having it appreciated, but where he also struggles for his native land, for all of Nordic nature, for the life of the people and all the great memories of the past

16 gertrud oelsner Barrows and hillsides in Danish art (5): Summer Day, Horsens Art Museum (13): View of Vejle, Vejle Kunstmuseum Molbech s and Høyen s statements of the new National-Romantic strategy, where language, history, landscape and culture are cemented together in an unassailable totality, are tellingly staged by Skovgaard. In the little work Girl on a barrow, Vejby, 1838, fig. 6, for example, it is not only the more domestic geography around his childhood home in Vejby that the artist depicts, it is also the close things the roots of the nation in a wider sense. Skovgaard s ancient barrow seems to have suffered a harsh fate; this was not a unique phenomenon at the time. The growing understanding of the diverse cultural and historical meanings of the country s ancient monuments was to lead in 1807 to the establishment of the Royal Commission for the Preservation of Antiquities; it was necessary to have an overview of and a focus on this part of the cultural heritage before the enterprise and thrift of the rural population turned all the monuments into fields for arable farming, or recycled ancient, valuable building materials for their houses, farms and barns. In the painting a girl with her back to us, dressed in red, white and green, looks out from a high point over the landscape, where water, fields and forest are linked in an understanding of the landscape as a bearer of historical values that are brought to life by an authentic rural population. Unlike Lundbye, Skovgaard only occasionally cultivated the ancient burial mounds as a subject. His works often play on expectations of the politically aware viewer of the time as regards subjects; and what appears to be a random, steeply rising hill could also be an overgrown monument of the past. Among the most striking of these is Skovgaard s Summer Day from 1846 (5). The work was a commission from Lehmann. Besides his political commitment, Lehmann was also very interested in art, and he often commissioned works from the artists of the time. From Skovgaard, besides this work, he commissioned views from Vejle (13), where he was a County Prefect in the period Constantin Hansen ( ) was also given a number of commissions by Lehmann, and the preserved correspondence between the two men is evidence that Lehmann was highly conscious of his wishes and requirements from art. 32 Perhaps he was less inclined to intervene in Skovgaard s case, and if we are to believe Constantin Hansen, life as a landscape painter was in general less complicated than that of the figure painters: it is much easier for these landscape painters to cover a piece of canvas with colours than for the figure painters, as they are of course far too wise to admit. 33 From the preserved 16

17 the democratic space of the forest correspondence between Skovgaard and Lehmann it is also evident that Skovgaard was given a free hand with the planned commission, and was into the bargain offered financial compensation for the extra effort the commission appears to have required: Dear friend! I suspect my piece has cost you more effort than you expected when we spoke of the price. So I ask you to inform me of this, regardless of earlier agreements and statements. 34 fig. 6. P.C. Skovgaard, Girl on a Barrow near Vejby, Oil on canvas, laid down on board, cm. The Skovgaard Museum. Photo: Misfeldt Reklamefotografi Skovgaard s reply came after some weeks of consideration: I thank you for your letter and fine offer, but I do not intend to avail myself of the latter. I was well aware what I was doing when we agreed on the painting last year. It was then clear to me how I would do it, and how I wanted it to be that I would nevertheless 17

18 gertrud oelsner have to spend rather more time on it than I thought, and if it has thus become rather more elaborated, it has also become much less fresh than I desired. It was in fact my wish to have the opportunity to do a painting where I could truly take it as it comes, and you were so good as to give me unrestricted freedom. On this occasion I have had the great advantage of learning to know my strengths better. In other words the agreement will stand. 35 Surely the reference is to Summer Day, which we know was owned by Lehmann? 36 As far as we know, Lehmann commissioned no other pictures from Skovgaard in this period; the Vejle pictures were only painted some years later. It was presumably the above letter that Lehmann answered in the following words: after your letter came yesterday, I have no choice but to obey. It must naturally please us both that all the world agrees with us that it is a charming picture. Skovgaard s Summer Day was painted in the course of the spring, and it sums up the essence of the associations of the Danish landscape. Here we have meadow, slope and beech wood, and women, children and men all have their logical place in this beautification of the Danish countryside, where the stone formation at the foot of the hill gives the subject a cultural resonance that stretches far back in time. In this work Skovgaard makes use of an arrangement of the figures that we encounter in several later works, for example A Beech Wood in May, where the men are characterized by their productive behaviour, while women and children appear to have a parallel but recreative understanding and use of the countryside, where there is time to play with and in the landscape in the shelter of motherly and wifely care that has ensured that full food hampers have also been brought along. Works like these by Skovgaard could have been illustrations accompanying Molbech s text, had it not been for the fact that they were only created almost 30 years after it. In both the works mentioned above, the artist seems to have the prehistoric past playing a significant role, although he has not, like J.C. Dahl ( ), Lundbye or Dreyer, for example, staged antiquity as monumental zones. Instead Skovgaard emphasizes the vital connection with the present day, often by giving the ancient monuments a less emphatic character, since the stones of the circle have been scattered over the landscape, and the people of the countryside have been cast in the roles of living representatives of the past. The continuum between prehistory and the present is stressed for example by the coloristic unity of barrow, stone circle and the surrounding agrarian landscape. 18

19 the democratic space of the forest Works of this type, which visualized a connection between nation and people, truly hit off the spirit of the age. For the newly-opened Thorvaldsen Museum (in 1848) Lundbye s Barrow at Raklev was one of the pictures acquired, presumably for its didac tic significance in the country s first museum open to the public, which had been built by representatives of the progressive bourgeoisie to pay homage to one of the nation s proud sons, who out of veneration for his native land had decided to donate his works to Denmark. The building of the museum was also attributed with almost revolutionary potential, which can come as no surprise considering the circle that was the driving force behind its construction, as expressed here in a letter to Thorvaldsen himself from Maria Puggaard (married to Lehmann ): I suppose I need hardly inform you that your museum cuts a very fine figure: it looks almost grandiose, with its simple façade, reflected in the canal; in the winter, when the topping-out garland was to crown the new building, Mother bound a large garland for it and made so bold (in our turbulent times) as to hang a tricolour banner at the top of it; the rest of us tried to deter her with threats of the guardhouse, and the persuasion that is the custom on the day; but she swore she would defend her banner, were it from the King himself; freedom in art, she averred, has been introduced by Thorvaldsen; its endurance must be our prime desire, and his museum must stand there free of any connection with the Palace or anything else of the sort. 37 Prehistory in fashion Prehistory was a popular theme at the time. Not only was it a favourite subject among the painters of the period; the literati of the time too contributed to its canonization one need only mention the celebration of the prehistoric Golden Horns in 1803 by the poet Adam Oehlenschläger ( ), incidentally said to have been written after an intense, 16-hour session with the Norwegian philosopher Henrik Steffens ( ), who in those very years was giving his famous lectures on natural philosophy at the University of Copenhagen with among others B.S. Ingemann ( ), H.C. Ørsted ( ) and N.F.S. Grundtvig ( ) among the listeners. In 1819 came Grundtvig s Nordens Guder (Gods of the North), which was followed by his translations of Saxo Grammaticus and Snorri Sturlusson; 38 the same year Oehlenschläger wrote the song that became the Danish national anthem, Der 19

20 gertrud oelsner er et yndigt land (There is a lovely land), and Ingemann began work on his historical novels, including Valdemar Seier from So it was hardly coincidental that the Norse gods were chosen as motifs for Skovgaard s, Lundbye s and Lorenz Frølich s ( ) collective decoration of the banqueting hall of the Rifle Range on the occasion of the Scandinavian Students Conference on 13th January Frølich was presumably the driving force behind the decoration, while Skovgaard made his original contribution with Loki, who differs from the other gods by departing from the strictly frontal representation and motion of the figure, fig. 7. Among the gods of the North large Danish flags were hung, although in practice no one except the King and the Navy was allowed to fly the fig. 7. P.C. Skovgaard, Loke, Lithograph after cartoon for the Rifle Range. Photo: Misfeldt Reklamefoto 20

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