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Monday, August 19, 2013

Wilhelm Bendz

Model Class at the Copenhagen Academy, 1826, Wilhelm Bendz

Wilhelm Bendz Self-portrait, 1826
In 1825, a Danish artist from Copenhagen attempted to win his country's gold medal in painting. Fresh from his studies at the Danish Royal Academy, the young man was out to make a name for himself. That name was Wilhelm Ferdinand Bendz. He did not win the gold medal. The problem for this technically quite adept, budding young artist was that the Gold Medal in painting, in Copenhagen and elsewhere in Europe, was only awarded to history paintings or on rare occasions works dealing with classical mythology. Bendz painted neither. He tended toward genre scenes (everyday life) and the occasional genre portrait featuring middle and upper-class families involved in scenes from their normal, everyday life.

Artists in the Evening at Finck's Coffee House in Munich, 1832, Wilhelm Bendz
Smoking Party, 1828, Wilhelm Bendz
Genre painting during this time was looked down upon, positioned a step below portraiture and maybe a little above simple landscapes. The young man took the loss well, he decided to concentrate on what he did best and forego critical acclaim. Specialization was the key to success in the Danish art world (though perhaps not quite to the extreme degree as in Holland). Bendz took it upon himself to specialize in genre scenes involving the narrow art world he inhabited, painting scenes from the painting classes he knew so well, and portraits of his fellow artists. That sounds today like an extremely narrow focus, but Bendz was, in fact, fairly successful at it. His Model Class at the Copenhagen Academy (top) is considered one of his best. Thanks to the work of Wilhelm Bendz, we, as artists today, can get something of a feel for what it must have been like to study and work as an artist nearly two hundred years ago.

A Young Artist Looking at a sketch through a Mirror, 1825, Wilhelm Bendz.
Notice the detailed depiction of the mundane artists' tools of the day.
The Raffenberg, 1831, Wilhelm Bendz
Bendz's genre portraits would, of course, today be the stock-in-trade of family photographers, either amateur or professional. Bendz's efforts, such as The Raffenberg Family, (left) from 1831, depicts a young lady being introduced for the first time to her future mother-in-law, and through a small, painted portrait, to her deceased father-in-law. The painting is both a scene from daily life as well as a momentous occasion for the family. His Smoking Party (above, right) from 1828 is an all male genre grouping of tobacco addicts with a musical bent, enjoying their vice. His A Young Artist Looking at a sketch through a Mirror from 1826, features an artist employing one of the oldest tricks known to artist.

The Painter Christian Holm, 1826,
Wilhelm Bendz
Despite not pursuing a career as a history painter, Bendz apparently did well with his narrow specialization in that, in 1831, he won a travel scholarship which enabled him to visit, Dresden, Munich, Berlin, and Venice. Wilhelm Bendz died at the age of 28, thus he did not leave behind a large body of work for us to peruse and analyze in regarding his stature as an artist. Yet his paintings of his art school friends and the academic training they endured provides us a fascinating insight into the early 19th century European art world. His end came as Bendz passed briefly through Venice on his way to Rome. There the young man picked up a "lung infection" from which he died in Vicenza a few days later (too many smoking parties, perhaps). 

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