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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Martinus Rørbye

View from the Parthenon Between the Bars with Smoking Greeks, 1835, Martin Rørbye.
Some people love to travel. Others don't. Traveling any major distance takes a certain kind of bravery not too unlike that of a trapeze artist. It entails a willingness to let go of one life, soar across time and space, then grasp onto something new and different, knowing all the time that there are hundreds of things which can go wrong in pursuing such an adventure. I love taking this calculated risk; my wife...not so much. Her idea of traveling is to lie back, relax, and do as little as possible. I guess the difference is, she's employed part-time and I'm fully retired. My daily routine (aside from this little literary endeavor) involves lying back and doing a little as possible. Therefore, I'm game for a little excitement when we hit the road. I have a lot in common with the Danish painter from the early 19th-century, Martinus Rorbye. The main difference is, traveling is far more comfortable now than it was then.

A company of Danish artists in Rome, 1836, by Constantin Hansen, a fellow Dane
Rorbye met in Rome. Rorbye is the artist sitting on the floor to the left of the window.
Martin Rorbye, 1851,
engraving by Erling Eckersberg .
There were other differences. I have a spousal traveling companion. Rorbye was born in 1803 and waited until 1939, at age thirty-six, before marrying. Thus he did most of his journeying alone or with some male traveling companion he met along the way. In some ways that would have simplified travel; yet from personal experience, there have been times when my wife's foresight, level-headed reasoning, and restraint (of me) have been fortunate. Keep in mind, during the 1830s, when Rorbye did most of his traveling about Europe, railroads and steam locomotives were cutting-edge technology, and then only between major cities where there was little in the way of geographic obstacles to transverse. In lieu of that, there was the horse-drawn coach, over rough, often dusty (or worse, muddy), unpaved roads, no heat, no air-conditioning, no attendants with coffee or snacks, and OMG, no restrooms on board. Tourism was in its infancy, and no pursuit for sissies or those with a weak bladder.

An oil sketch by Constantin Hansen of
Rorbye done in Rome, 1837, later
used in the painting above.
Rorbye sketched continuously as he traveled, much like I take digital photos of everything even remotely interesting while on vacation today. Then, when Rorbye got home, he "developed" his sketches much like photos shot on film, into large-scale, permanent works. His View from the Parthenon between the Bars with Smoking Greeks (top), from 1835, I found especially fascinating, having been there myself several years ago. The Parthenon is ageless, but the vista Rorbye painted in the background has changed considerably since his time. It's now solidly urban the entire seven or eight miles from Athens to Piraeus, the city's seaport, which is virtually invisible in Rorbye's background.

The Prison of Copenhagen, 1831, Martinus Rørbye, considered by some to be his best work.

View from the Artist's Window,
1825, Martinus Rørbye
Martinus Rorbye's extensive travels throughout Europe, began in 1830, long before he married and settled down in Copenhagen. He started with a paddle steamer trip from Denmark to Norway, during which time he met the Danish author, Hans Christian Anderson, who became his earliest traveling companion. Like some people today, Rorbye visited relatives to save money. His relatives were in Jutland, though he found little there suitable for landscapes. There were virtually no trees. Paintings such as The Prison of Copenhagen (above) from 1831, and View through the Artist's Window (right) from 1825, and later, Christ Healing the Blind (below, right) dating from 1829, were sufficiently impressive to gain him standing with the Danish Royal Academy. In 1834, they awarded Rorbye a travel scholarship allowing him to begin his European sojourn. He traveled by way of the Netherlands to France, then on to Paris and from there to Rome where he joined the Danish artists' colony active there at the time. The painting mentioned earlier by fellow Dane, Constantin Hansen, depicts this group of artist. Strangely, none of them seem much interested in painting.

A Turkish Notary Drawing up a Marriage Contract, 1837, Martinus Rørbye
Christ Healing the Blind,
1829, Martinus Rørbye.
Traveling during the 1800s, needless to say, was at a much slower pace, both when on the road and at ones destination. Whereas today, I can only afford a day or two in Rome, a week at most in Paris, Rorbye spent months soaking up the local color, sketching, eating, drinking, and smoking, all of which (except for the sketching) were likely quite unhealthy at the time. While in Italy, the artist also took in Sorrento, Sicily, and the Sabine Mountains. Rorbye returned to Copenhagen around 1836, probably to paint and sell in order to replenish his finances, before taking off a second time for Rome, intent this time upon visiting Athens and Constantinople. Once in Turkey, Rorbye concentrated not on painting landscapes, but on sketching the exotic--the people and architecture he encountered. His A Turkish Notary Drawing up a Marriage Contract (above), from 1837, later won him the Thorvaldsen Medal awarded by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts as its highest distinction within the visual arts.

Despite his health deteriorated, in 1844 Martinus Rorbye became a professor at the Danish academy’s school of modeling. He died in 1848 at the age of forty-five leaving a widow and several small children.

I'm not sure where or when Rorbye found this blunderbuss;
I would have been hard pressed not to have painted it too.


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