Beyond the Light: Identity and Place in 19th Century Danish Art

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Sharon Lorenzo connects with her Danish heritage.

View from the Citadel Ramparts in Copenhagen by Moonlight, 1839, Martinus Rorbye, oil on canvas.

With this catalog cover, we see the point of view adopted by the curators from the Danish National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum as they used 100 images to illustrate Danish art from the 19th century with a focus on Danish geography and political evolution in that century.  As the water levels rose in this part of the world, primitive occupants from 8000 B.C. emerged from the bogs and bays to frame a modern nation that had a history of skill on the water which promoted their local fisheries and naval superiority.  After many centuries of European warfare and foreign occupancy, Denmark was one of the first nations to join NATO in 1949 to secure its presence in the Baltic arena.[1] This show highlights the efforts of its local artists to capture historical scenes in lithographs, drawings, etchings, and oil paintings that embrace the landscape before the invention of photography.


The English Fleet Anchored at the Town of Beykoz, 1853,  Drawing by Anton Melbye.

One of the gifts of looking at works of art on paper is that you must stop, stare, read the label and engage with detailed focus to really see the art and the messages it renders.  The curators did a very interesting thing taking some of the works and making them into wallpaper to enlarge the details at the entry to this show. In this new age of artificial intelligence, we can see how technology can enhance our understanding by enlarging our visual world.  This drawing of the Copenhagen Harbor below drew me in to search for the maiden on the rock. Sadly, she was not added to this neighborhood until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Harbor of Copenhagen, 1809, Christoffer W. Eckersberg, pen and ink drawing.

The Little Mermaid, Edvard Eriksen, 1913, bronze on harbor rock pediment.

My maternal grandfather emigrated from Denmark with his two brothers and parents at the age of 8 to New York City where he became a dentist and raised four daughters.    He was an avid athlete and loved sailing on the calm waters of Great South Bay near East Moriches, Long Island. As a mob of sixteen cousins, we walked with him each morning to town, and then rowed around the bay for swimming and clamming when the weather permitted.  He was named Canute Hansen which we later learned was a popular name derived from the famous King Canute who led Denmark during the Viking era until his death in 1086.  This exhibition at the Met Museum shows the energy and visual acuity of the Danish art market in the 19th century as the local specialists began to travel all over Europe to see the wonders of Rome, Paris, and neighboring vicinities.  The wonderful oil below captures a curious young painter contemplating his work intently in a mirror.

A Young Artist Examining a Sketch in the Mirror, Wilhelm Bendz, 1826, oil on canvas.

I find these smaller art exhibitions a nice respite from the huge block buster shows which so often encompass our museums today.  I think each visitor will find a quiet respite amidst these Danish works which focus on a part of the world where land and sea are merged to form a nation and landscape of devoted citizens who are proud of their nation and historical integrity.


Beyond the Light

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y.
January 26- April 16, 2023





[1] Freyda Spira, Denmark and the Sea- Defining the Boundaries of a Nation.  Beyond the Light, Identity and Place in 19th Century Danish Art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022, p. 13.

The post Beyond the Light: Identity and Place in 19th Century Danish Art appeared first on Sharp Eye.

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