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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christen Dalsgaard

Mormons Visit a Country Carpenter, 1856, Christen Dalsgaard.
Religious art embraces 19th century evangelism, replacing "Sunday School" pictures.
Christen Dalsgaard, self-portrait
with Cheruta, 1880s.
From the Renaissance up through much of the 17th century, paintings of religious subjects were one of the mainstays of nearly all painters' repertoires. Second only to the ever-present art of portraiture, painting for the church and wealthy, but devout, collectors put paint on the palette and food on the table of artists all over the Christian world of Europe. Then came the Reformation. Of course that was followed by the Counter-Reformation, together, while not actually destroying the religious art market, certainly changed and restrained it. The tastes of collectors changed as well, moving in the direction of frivolity (Rococo) or mythology, history, and all things Greek and Roman (Classicism). By the 19th century, though scenes from the Bible never really died out, art history tends to loose track of them in the plethora of styles and art theories bubbling up from the minds of painters, critics, and collectors. Though biblical figures (especially peripheral ones) were an important source of content for Academic painters, Impressionism, Post-impressionism, Modernism, etc. never embraced religion or the art growing from it. Such work faded in importance nearly to the point of insignificance.

The stone hallway at Sorø Academy, 1871. Christen Dalsgaard.
The artist taught here for thirty years.
The Danish artist, Christen Dalsgaard, therefore, is an important link though the 19th century from the already fading religious painting of the 18th century to the present. He was perfectly positioned, born in 1824, he died in 1907. Being Danish, Dalsgaard was far removed from the stultifying influence of the French academic art machine (factory?). The Academy virtually dictated a narrow range of subject matter content to, not just to French artists, but to a great extent, all European artists studying under its roof. Conversely, Dalsgaard's art training was centered in Copenhagen under the direction of Martinus Rørbye, Niels Lauritz Høyen, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, and J. L. Lund, not exactly household names but also not French.

Farmhouse Interior, Christen Dalsgaad, genre without figures.
Unlike their French counterparts, these leaders of the Danish Academy encouraged artist to reject foreign influences (primarily French and Italian) and to search their native land instead, painting the common folks in their daily lives as they searched of noble subjects (in other words, genre). Dalsgaard made an honest attempt to conform, as seen in his Farmhouse Interior (above), unique in that it is devoid of human figures. His Unrequited Love. The Girl's Parents Refuse their Consent (below) likewise turns a new twist on the "happily ever after" theme accompanying most such work.

Unrequited Love. The Girl's Parents Refuse Consent, Christen Dalsgaard.
Nevertheless, Dalsgaard had long been primarily a painter of altarpieces, thus much of his work was academically formal, firmly at odds with that art officially preferred by the Danish masters. However, Dalsgaard found a compromise. His biblical subjects took on a genre nature, reasoning that Jesus, though not Danish, was, nonetheless, of the common folk. In essence, Dalsgaard chose to paint biblical genre as seen in his Holy Family (below, left), his Jesus with Mary and Martha (below, right), and his Jesus' Entrance into Jerusalem (bottom). These efforts have an unmistakable 19th century look about them, though unfortunately, many have been co-opted by 20th century publishers, reducing them to "Sunday School" illustrations.

Biblical genre.
Sunday School Illustration.
Jesus with Mary and Martha,
1890s, Christen Dalsgaard
In 1856, Dalsgaard's religious work took a major departure from from traditional scriptural scenes in favor of contemporary evangelism with his Mormons Visit a Country Carpenter (top). The work broke new ground insofar as religious paintings were concerned in that, it essentially gave a whole new definition to both biblical content, but genre as well. Dalsgaard merged the two in a manner seldom seen in not just Danish art, but that of any other country as well. Rather than merely illustrating the Bible (as seen below), Dalsgaard chose to depict the Bible as an integral part of human life.

Jesus' Entrance into Jerusalem, 1890s, Christen Dalsgaard


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