Wilhelm Marstrand

Wilhelm Marstrand


Art studies / Training at the Academy

Marstrand studied at Metropolitan School ("Metropolitanskole"), but had very little interest in books, and therefore left at 16 years of age. His father, Nicolai, knew Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, painter and professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Art ("Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi") in Copenhagen, and according to story Eckersberg recommended that Wilhelm attend the Academy. Vilhelm had already shown his artistic talents, tackling difficult subject such as group scenes with many figures and complicated composition.

At 16 years of age he began hia studies at the Academy under Eckersberg, attending the school from 1826 to 1833. Although Marstrand's interests had a firm hold in genre themes-- depiction of the daily life he observed around him in Copenhagen's streets, especially middle class society-- he reached for the pinnacle of Academic acceptability: the history painting.

History painting presented the grand themes-- classical mythological and historical themes, not the daily life. The traditions, and the taste of traditional art critics, favored this. It was to be strived for, in spite of his skills at depicting the more modest themes in daily life, and the enjoyment he had with portraying the crowds, the diversions of city life and in revealing the humor and story behind all the hustle and bustle.

His creative production, in the form of many painting and illustrations made throughout the 1830s and throughout his life, reflect this natural inclination toward showing the simple life of his times. Christian Waagepetersen, wine merchant to the Danish court and supporter of the arts, also became an important patron for Marstrand during this period. His painting "A musical evening party" ("Et musikalsk aftenselskab") (1834), depicts such an occasion at the home of Waagepetersen, and was an important transition painting for him.

He never received the big gold medallion from the Academy. This medallion was not only coveted for the honour and recognition it bestowed, but also because it included a travel stipend for furthering the artist's training. His attempts at procuring the medallion lost both in 1833 with his neoclassical "Flight to Egypt" ("Flugten til Ægypten") and in 1835 with "Odysseus and Nausikaa". This was a disappointment as he had won both silver medals in 1833.

Travel to foreign lands

In spite of his not receiving the medallion, the Academy awarded him a travel stipend from its general fund. In August 1836 he began his travels, going by way of Germany to Rome, Italy, stopping on the way at Berlin, Dresden, Nuremberg and Munich. In Italy, where he stayed for four years, he painted many idealized depictions of daily life, especially festivities. He was very much taken by Italy and the life styles of the Italian people. He portrayed a colorful and joyous view of them, infused with a new found ideal of beauty.

He also painted a few portraits during this first stay in Italy. Among these are portraits of other travelling Danish artists, such as Christen Købke and travelling partner Johan Adolph Kittendorff. He also completed sketches for a large portrait of botanist and politician, J.F. Schouw, which would be later realized as a painting.

Career development

He returned to Denmark at the end of 1841, stopping in Munich and Paris along the way. In Denmark he tried to bring back that which he learned in Italy, and let it develop in his home culture.

He became a member of the Academy June 19, 1843, after having submitted the painting "Erasmus Montanus" as his admissions piece. He became a professor at the Academy in 1848. He strived to let his students develop after their own skills and interests, among these being Peder Severin Krøyer, Michael Ancher, Carl Bloch and Kristian Zahrtmann.

He continued to travel regularly in Europe throughout his life, to (London, Vienna (1853-1854), Belgium, but especially to Italy and Rome), sometimes in the company of fellow artists P.C. Skovgaard and Johan Adolph Kittendorff, and art historian and critic Niels Lauritz Høyen.

He continued to draw inspiration from Italy in his paintings. He drew also inspiration from literature and the theatre, portraying scenes from "Don Quixote" by Cervantes, as well as from "Erasmus Montanus," a play by Danish playwright Ludvig Holberg. Holberg's works would provide Marstrand with much inspiration.

And he continued to paint genre paintings, and to make sketches, caricatures and drawings that capture the spirit of that time with sharp satire.Marstrand married Margrethe Christine Weidemann on June 8, 1850 with whom he had five children. His family became also a source for his painting. One can see certain similarities in his portraits of the children to those made by Constantin Hansen, one of his contemporaries, and another student of Eckersberg.

He began painting portraits seriously again in the late 1850s, depicting some of the most important figures of the time, including artist Constantin Hansen (1852, 1862), Grundtvig (1863), N.L. Høyen (1869), Gottlieb Bindesbøll, and his earlier portraiture of Christen Købke 1839.

During the 1850s and 1860s he began to paint religious themes, especially after the death of his wife in 1867. He focused also again on paintings with mythological and historical themes. He painted mural decoration for King Christian IV's chapel in Roskilde Cathedral ("Domkirke") between 1864-1866. These featured scenes from the life of the monarch. He painted a large altarpiece at Faaborg Church. In 1871, shortly before his death, he delivered large wallpaintings made for the University of Copenhagen's Celebration Hall ("Festsal"). These are considered some of his best historical paintings.

He was named Director of the Academy during two periods: the first period was from 1853-1857, the other period was from 1863 until his death in 1873. He was named State Councillor ("etatsråd") in 1867.

During the last ten years of this life his works became very intimate. A series of paintings made during the last 6 years of his life featured a naked woman, while others are deeply religious.

In October 1871 he was struck with a brain hemorrhage.

The results of a fruitful life

Marstrand, in his lifetime, was proclaimed one of the greatest Danish artists ever. He was extremely productive, and mastered a number of genres. He was best known for the scenes of daily life in Copenhagen that he painted in his younger days, for the Italian festivities he portrayed, and from 1830 on the many portraits of Copenhagen's middle class and influential, and the larger commissioned pieces for the University and the monarchy. After his death his work became less valued because its style was deemed unfashionable, but there has been renewed appreciation for his work.


* [http://www.kid.dk/ KID Kunst Index Danmark ("Art Index Denmark")]
* [http://runeberg.org/dbl/ Danish Biographical Encyclopedia ("Dansk biografisk Leksikion")]

See also

* List of Danish painters

NAME=Marstrand, Vilhelm Nikolaj
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Marstrand, Vilhelm;Marstrand, Wilhelm
DATE OF BIRTH=December 24 1810
PLACE OF BIRTH=Copenhagen Denmark
DATE OF DEATH=March 25 1873
PLACE OF DEATH=Copenhagen Denmark

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