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 1780 to 1810 is seen as residing in its utility value and in landscape as the general setting for people’s activities.
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.
The 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 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.
The landscape painting 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.
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 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.
Thorvaldsens Museum opened on 18 September 1848 and was the first public museum building in Denmark. The characteristic museum building was built to exhibit the extensive life’s work of the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) and today still looks more or less as it did when it opened over 150 years ago.
Thorvaldsens Museum also contains Thorvaldsen’s drawings and sketches for sculptures and reliefs. In addition Thorvaldsen was a passionate collector, so the museum also exhibits his extensive collections of paintings from his own time and collections of artworks and objects from Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquity. The museum also shows changing exhibitions that go into greater depth with aspects of the permanent collections, including contemporary art.