Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A View of One of the Lakes in Copenhagen, by Christen Købke (1838)

This week we celebrate the birthday of Christen Schiellerup Købke, who was born on May 26, 1810.  He had a brief life, dying in 1848, but this Danish painter born in Copenhagen to Peter Berendt Købke, a baker, and his wife Cecilie Margrete, was one of the greatest artists of the Golden Age of Danish Painting.

One of 11 children, Købke was a student of Copenhagen Academy and, from 1828, a pupil of Christoffer Eckersberg (1783-1853), who influenced his style.

Starting in 1834, his landscapes acquired a more solemn and emotional quality, inspired by his interest in Caspar Friedrich (1774-1840).  He left for Rome in the summer of 1838; during his journey, he visited Dresden and Munich.  In May 1839, he arrived in Naples, and he stayed there until August 1840, copying the Pompeian frescoes in the National Museum. 

He lived in Capri with his compatriot painter, Constantin Hansen (1804-1880).  When he returned home, he turned his Italian life studies into large-scale painting.  He worked on the interiors of the Thorvaldsen Museum, and in 1845, he moved back to Copenhagen.  He had hopes of being called into the arts academy, but when that didn’t happen, money concerns forced him to start working as a decorator.

Today we look at one of my favorite Købke pictures, A View of One of the Lakes in Copenhagen, painted in 1838 and now at the Copenhagen National Gallery of Art. 

In this oil, two women stand on a short wooden pier in the tranquility of the summer twilight, watching a boat move away towards the far lake shore.  The delicate silhouette effect accentuates the slightly melancholy mood of the scene and the hour, and simultaneously suggests the artist’s sensitivity in communicating the naturalness of the scene.  The Danish painter acquired this ability during his long apprenticeship to Eckersberg, during the time the two men traveled together, sketching the Danish countryside from life.

Before deciding on the definitive layout for this painting, Købke executed various sketches of this view that he knew and loved – in fact, Købke lived right on the lakeshore.

Though Købke is clearly a gifted draughtsman and painter, there is something else going on in this picture that makes it so special.  First and foremost, Købke had the most important gift an artist can have – that of composition.  The layout and design of the picture frame is what makes the finished work so haunting and evocative. 

Købke also has the gift of subtlety – a sense of wistful yet intense emotion is captured by the artful placement of a few carefully rendered figures.  There are no faces in anguish or delight, no straining muscles or fiery (or smoky) colors, but still Købke manages to create a world of emotion without.  Amazing.

More Købke tomorrow.

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