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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Kristian Zahrtmann

San Lidano, Kristian Zahrtmann
When we think of the art of relatively small countries, we have a tendency to lump then together as if they shared a common heritage, culture, and painting tradition. The Scandinavian countries of northern Europe are a prime example. The include, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and sometimes the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The latter three, of course, serve as a second example of what I'm referring to as "regional homogenization." We could also mention the Caribbean countries, Southeast Asia, even the massive land masses of China, Korea, and Japan, lumped together as oriental art. Basically, this unfortunate habit is a form of abbreviation, simplifying that which should not be simplified. In the case of the Scandinavian countries (and many other such examples) we even find three separate (though somewhat related) languages. Referring to Scandinavian art, rather than simplifying, actually makes the matter more complicated, in that, while each country had its own art and artists, the area is so small artists often move back and forth among them over the course of their lives in seeking training, career opportunities, or sometimes apparently for no other reason than sheer whim. The Danish painter, Kristian Zahrtmann, for example, typifies all these elements.

One of the most important painters to ever be Danish.
Kristian Zahrtmann was born in 1843. His father was the chief doctor on the small Danish island of Bornholm. Kristian was the oldest child among seven boys and two girls. Denmark is a small country, made up of a major peninsula and several small islands--something of a navigational nuisance for seamen sailing the Baltic. Bornholm is one of the smaller islands located far to the east of the rest of the country, though not quite so far to the east as Denmark's biggest island is to the west. We call it Greenland. Denmark seems to have an affinity for far off islands. At one time the country also claimed Iceland and the Virgin Islands. At the age of seventeen, Zahrtmann was sent to Sorø Academy, where he studied landscape painting. After graduating Zahrtmann went to Copenhagen. There, during the winter of 1863-1864 he studied drawing at the Technical Institute. He also received private instruction from genre painter Wenzel Ulrich Tornøe during this same time. Having thoroughly prepared himself, Zahrtmann then began his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in 1864.

The artist's studio, Copenhagen, Kristian Zahrtmann
Few of Zahrtmann's paintings are dated, which makes tracing his development difficult, not to mention his movements among the various Scandinavian countries, though his style and content didn't change much relative to where he happened to be living at the time. Thus his work is quintessentially Danish, unlike some other painters of his time with more eclectic work. Zahrtmann is probably best known for his paintings of Leonora Christina Ulfeldt. He had already become interested in the story of the heroic 17th-century daughter of a Danish king, sometime before the 1869 when he received her autobiography as a gift. Countess Leonora Christina of Schleswig-Holstein, was King Christian IV's daughter by his morganatic marriage (a marriage between a man of high birth and a woman of lesser status) in this case a love marriage to a noble Danish maiden, who had fallen from grace because of her husband's high treason. She was then imprisoned for twenty-two years in Copenhagen Castle, then spent her final years in the solitude of a nunnery.

Queen Christina in the Palazzo Corsini, 1908, Kristian Zahrtmann,
apparently trying tobacco for the first time.
Zahrtmann depicted the story of Leonora Christina in a series of eighteen large paintings over several years. The first of these was made public in 1871. Queen Christina in the Palazzo Corsini (above), dates from 1908 and is one of the later works in the series. These paintings and others established Zahrtmann's in a prominent position as one of the leading artists of his time. Although it took him two years to do so, Zahrtmann eventually managed to extract a travel stipend from the Danish Academy, which should have been due him as winner of the large gold medal. Zahrtmann finally made his way to Italy late in 1875, the trip paid for by his father, before he received the travel grant. Starting in 1875, Zahrtmann lived for three years in Italy (Rome, Siena, Amalfi and Saracinesco), where he produced a number of popular Italian landscapes. The artist traveled back to Italy many times again on an Ancher Fund grant along with other Danish artists. He loved the life there, the strong Italian sun, the color brightness, and the exotic religious rites of the Catholic Church (top) which he depicted in many of his paintings in the late 1800s.

Jesus Christ Appearing before the Disciples. Kristian Zahrtmann
During his time in Italy Zahrtmann painted a number of religious works such as his Jesus Christ Appearing before the Disciples (above) as well as several depictions of mythological tales. Zahrtmann also traveled to Greece, France, and Portugal. His work was exhibited at the World’s Exhibitions in Paris 1878, 1889, 1900 and in Chicago in 1893. Jubal and Family (below), though undated, likely appeared in one or more of those international showcases. Zahrtmann was a leader in the establishment of the Artists Studio School in 1882 as a protest against the Danish Academy’s policies, and as an alternative educational program. Zahrtmann taught at the school for nearly twenty-five years. He was the leader of its preparatory class, which turned into an independent department. Over the years, Zahrtmann had some two-hundred students from the various Scandinavian countries. His prominence as a teacher led to the school being simply referred to as "Zahrtmann’s School." In June 1917 Zahrtmann was hospitalized with appendicitis. After an apparent improvement his condition worsened. He died a few days later in Frederiksberg.

Jubal and Family, Kristian Zahrtmann
From the Roman Maturity, 1879, Kristian Zahrtmann.
I found this so amusing I couldn't resist including it here.


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