Under the patronage of
Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II

From Abildgaard to Kirkeby

This exhibition shows a series of samples from the ARoS under the title of FRA ABILDGAARD TIL KIRKEBY. It is our ambition to tell the story of the development of Danish art over 200 years with the odd glance at foreign works.

The story begins at the end of the 18th century with N.A. Abildgaard (1743-1809), who was a pupil in the newly established academy of fine art, where he was subsequently to become a professor. In those days, it emphasis was on historical, biblical and literary motifs that could be used to adorn mansions and public buildings. In other countries it was particularly salon art that flourished, represented here by delicate portraits of women by Besnard (1849-1934) and landscape paintings by Noël (1815-1881).

At the beginning of the 19th century, the bourgeoisie discovered that they could buy art. And they wanted to have their portraits painted, to have portrayals of the beautiful Danish landscape and paintings from Italy, Greece and Constantinople, places the Danish Golden Age painters visited on their travels. Among the figures for whom this provided work were C.W. Eckersberg (1783-1853), Martinus Rørbye (1803-1848), J. Th. Lundbye (1818-1848), Constantin Hansen (1804-1880) and P.C. Skovgaard (1817-1875).

NATURE AND REALISM

The mid-nineteenth century is marked by the wars on Schleswig and the discussion of the new Constitution. Here, national sentiments came to take centre stage as is seen for example in Jørgen Sonne’s (1801-1890) depiction of a Cavalry Skirmish near Aarhus in 1849, his portrayals of everyday country life in A Wedding and A Funeral, and the atmospheric Romantic landscape paintings that are represented in Aarhus by figures such as Janus la Cour (1837-1909). Towards the end of the century, incipient industrialism provided fertile soil for Realism’s portrayals of town life. Social poverty in the city is seen in one of the very popular works in ARoS, the painting Deserted by Frants Henningsen (1850-1908). Similarly, the dream of a better life is the theme in the portrayal of emigrants by Edvard Petersen (1841-1911). Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) captures the melancholy atmosphere in people living in silent apartments in the city.

The artists now started to leave the city in the summer and were followed by an incipient tourism. Skagen sees the establishment of an artists’ colony centred on P.S. Krøyer (1851-1909), Michael Ancher (1849-1927) and Anna Ancher (1859-1935). The artists’ own lives become a new theme, and plein air painting becomes increasingly firmly established, as is also seen in the Funen artists Th. Philipsen (1840-1920) and Johannes Larsen (1867-1961).

THE MODERN BREAKTHROUGH

Modernism became established in the 1920s. Artists such as J.F. Willumsen (1863-1958), Harald Giersing (1881-1927), Edvard Weie (1879-1943) and Vilhelm Lundstrøm (1893-1950) revolutionized the imagery of art. They visited Paris and saw how Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse worked with colour shape and space as independent pictorial elements.

The next step was Surrealism in the 1930s, partly inspired by Sigmund Freud’s ideas on dreams and the subconscious. In their art, Wilhelm Freddie (1909-1995), Richard Mortensen (1910-1993), Ejler Bille (1910-2004) and Vilhelm Bjerke Petersen (1909-1957) explored the irrationality in the human psyche and the repressions hidden in it.

Richard Mortensen (1910-1993) and Robert Jacobsen (1912-1993) developed concrete art in which work with rhythm and balance was intended to create the foundations for a new and better society. People were living in the shadow of war, and fear of atomic war and the end of the world are expressed by Svend Wiig Hansen (1922-1997) in violently expressive works.

IMAGINATION AND FEELING

The Cobra group represents the imaginative element. Ejler Bille (1910-2004), Egill Jacobsen (1910-1998), Carl Henning Pedersen (1913-2007) and Asger Jorn (1914-1973) give free rein to imagination and emotion. Meanwhile, pop art takes its inspiration from strip cartoons and the advertisements of everyday life.

The presentation ends with Per Kirkeby (b. 1938) and his great work Nach der Abnahme from 1988. In it he gathers together the literary story, the Romantic portrayal of nature, the dream of a better world, the expressive surge of feelings and the sense of elevation in a new totality. It is precisely these elements, which we have encountered on our trip through 200 years of art developments that this gallery now presents.