Appreciating Art in Copenhagen’s National Gallery Part One: The Royal Collection

National Gallery of Denmark, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark

Like practically everywhere else in Copenhagen, the National Gallery of Denmark (SMK), which I was expecting to be not that interesting, was absolutely fantastic.  The Danes are masters of doing everything wonderfully.  The museum itself is attractive, the art is great, the lighting, the level of information given – everything was perfect.  I love the Danes.

National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

The history of the collection is rather interesting.  It started with King Christian IV, who was an eager castle builder and needed pretty pictures to hang on those cold, vast walls.  He often bought paintings in bulk – he didn’t really know much about art, and he was keen on pictures that showed drama, easy to understand symbolism and solid moral lessons.  While some of the art was given to the Swedes as spoils of war in 1658, a lot has remained in Denmark, and some is still in the SMK.

It was with the appointment in 1750 of Gerhard Morell as the Keeper of King Frederik V’s Art Chamber that art was bought more thoughtfully.  Morell suggested to the King that he really should have an art collection like other European royals.  Frederick V wasn’t that interested in art, but he happily sent Morell off to the Netherlands to buy, buy, buy.  And Morell happily bought, bought, bought – and he showed good sense and taste in his acquisitions: for example he got Andrea Mantegna’s Christ as the Suffering Redeemer (not on show when I visited).
In 1827, the Royal Art Gallery – ‘Det Kongelige Billedgalleri’ – opened its doors to the public.  It was housed in a specially built picture gallery at Christiansborg Palace, even though the art actually became public property in 1849 with the abolition of absolute monarchy in Denmark.  Still, the Palace continued to house the collection until 1884, when on the night of the 3rd/4th October, a terrible fire swept through Christiansborg.  It’s said that the ageing King Christian IX was involved in rescuing the art, but whether this is true or not, the paintings were evacuated with incredible efficiency.  The large canvases were quickly, but carefully, cut from their frames.  The paintings were taken out in order of importance.  The majority of works therefore survived the flames, which is pretty amazing.

In 1896, the paintings moved into the newly built Statens Museum for Kunst. It was designed by Vilhelm Dahlerup, who was a major architect of his time and was also involved in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek.  Interestingly, the building didn’t go down well amongst critics, who though the style was old-fashioned and overly heavy.  Most bizarrely, it was also too small to house the whole royal collection that had been made homeless by the Christiansborg fire.

And the museum held a lot of art.  Not only did it have paintings, displayed in the salon style, where every inch of space was filled with a Tetris display of art, but there was also a collection of plaster casts of famous sculptures, and a formidable collection of graphic arts (drawings, woodcuts etc.) by artists like Goya and Dürer.

It was only in the 1960s that something was finally done about the space issue.  There was a major refurbishment of the museum, by architect Nils Koppel, which not only involved big architectural changes, but also led to the plaster casts being taken out (they are now at Vestindisk Pakhus on the harbour front of Copenhagen).

In 1998, a new wing to the museum was opened.  It was designed by Anna Maria Indrio of C.F. Møllers Tegnestue, and it is a modernist structure which runs parallel to the original building.  The two buildings are connected by the glass roof and gangways, which is both attractive and practical.  Quite honestly, I thought this area was really cool – it feels very respectful, as it means you get to preserve and admire the original building.  At the same time, the new design is ageless, classy and ‘ignorable’ in the nicest way.

View out into surroundings, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

View out into surroundings, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Elegant Christmas tree, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Elegant Christmas tree, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

The old and new are joined, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

The old and new are joined, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Walking over the gangway, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Walking over the gangway, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

View from the gangway, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

View from the gangway, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

European Art

Thanks to the 18th century purchases of Gerhard Morell, the galleries dedicated to European art are great to explore.  The fact that there are Rembrandts on show is a bonus.

Virgin and Child, after 1454, workshop of Dieric Bouts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Virgin and Child, after 1454, workshop of Dieric Bouts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

St Bernardino of Siena, c1510-30, unknown Spanish Master, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

St Bernardino of Siena, c1510-30, unknown Spanish Master, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Portrait of a Young Man with a Rosary, 1485-90, Hans Memling, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Portrait of a Young Man with a Rosary, 1485-90, Hans Memling, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Portrait of Jacob Jansz van der Meer, c1500-10, Jan Mostaert, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Portrait of Jacob Jansz van der Meer, c1500-10, Jan Mostaert, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Peasants Making Merry, 1574, Lucas van Valckenborch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Peasants Making Merry, 1574, Lucas van Valckenborch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

IMG_2142

Detail of Peasants Making Merry, 1574, Lucas van Valckenborch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Bust of a Nobleman in Armour and a Ruff, c1580, unknown sculptor, burnt clay, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Bust of a Nobleman in Armour and a Ruff, c1580, unknown sculptor, burnt clay, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple, after 1570, follower of Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple, after 1570, follower of Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of crazy child in Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple, after 1570, follower of Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of crazy child in Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple, after 1570, follower of Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of a quack extracting a tooth from Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple, after 1570, follower of Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  The detail of the poor child getting smacked is also interesting.  Oh, and the guy watching the quack, with a goose in a sack over his shoulder - he's getting mugged.

Detail of a quack extracting a tooth from Christ Driving the Traders from the Temple, after 1570, follower of Hieronymus Bosch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  The detail of the poor child getting smacked is also interesting.  Oh, and the guy watching the quack, with a goose in a sack over his shoulder – he’s getting mugged.

The Way to Calvary, 1602, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Way to Calvary, 1602, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of two plump children watching The Way to Calvary, 1602, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of two plump children watching The Way to Calvary, 1602, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of Peasant Wedding: Dance in the Open Air, 1574, Lucas van Valckenborch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of Peasant Wedding: Dance in the Open Air, 1574, Lucas van Valckenborch, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

A Feast in an Italian Villa, 1620, Sebastian Vrancx, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

A Feast in an Italian Villa, 1620, Sebastian Vrancx, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of musicians at A Feast in an Italian Villa, 1620, Sebastian Vrancx, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of musicians at A Feast in an Italian Villa, 1620, Sebastian Vrancx, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Deatil of a lady breastfeeding by a grand table set for the feast, A Feast in an Italian Villa, 1620, Sebastian Vrancx, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Deatil of a lady breastfeeding by a grand table set for the feast, A Feast in an Italian Villa, 1620, Sebastian Vrancx, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Trompe l'oeil of a Cupboard with Works of Art, 1670, Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  The door can be opened and would have revealed the ivory vessel and equestrian figure.  The vessel - and perhaps the statuette - was created by the German artist Joachim Henne who, along with Gijsbrechts, worked for the Danish court. 

Trompe l’oeil of a Cupboard with Works of Art, 1670, Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  The door can be opened and would have revealed the ivory vessel and equestrian figure.  The vessel – and perhaps the statuette – was created by the German artist Joachim Henne who, along with Gijsbrechts, worked for the Danish court.

Young Woman with a Carnation, 1656, workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn; National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Young Woman with a Carnation, 1656, workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn; National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

"How Well We Go Together", Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  The title may refer to the saying 'birds of a feather'.  This painting was part of a set depicting animals as humans - sadly, the others are only known through prints.  

“How Well We Go Together”, Adriaen Pietersz. van de Venne, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  The title may refer to the saying ‘birds of a feather’.  This painting was part of a set depicting animals as humans – sadly, the others are only known through prints.

A Visit to the Doctor, 1660-65, Gerard Dou, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

A Visit to the Doctor, 1660-65, Gerard Dou, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Kitchen Scene, c1645, Gerard Dou, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Kitchen Scene, c1645, Gerard Dou, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Prophet Elijah with the Widow of Zarephath and Her Son, Abraham van Dijck, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Prophet Elijah with the Widow of Zarephath and Her Son, Abraham van Dijck, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Interior of a Dutch Church, 1659, Rutger van Langevelt, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Interior of a Dutch Church, 1659, Rutger van Langevelt, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

IMG_8560

Young man in a Pearl-trimmed Cap, 1650s, workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Self-Portrait, c1635, Jan Lievens, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Self-Portrait, c1635, Jan Lievens, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Study of an Old Man in Profile, 1630, Rembrandt van Rijn, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Study of an Old Man in Profile, 1630, Rembrandt van Rijn, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

A Young Woman Resting her Hands on the Picture Frame, after 1641, workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

A Young Woman Resting her Hands on the Picture Frame, after 1641, workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Portrait of Descartes, c1649, Frans Hals, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  It is thought to have been painted in Haarlem before Descartes' departure for Sweden a year before his death.

Portrait of Descartes, c1649, Frans Hals, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  It is thought to have been painted in Haarlem before Descartes’ departure for Sweden a year before his death.

Don Miguel de Castro, Emissary of Congo, 1643, unknown Dutch Artist, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  Castro was part of a delegation that went to resolve a territorial dispute and travelled to Dutch Brazil and then to the Netherlands in search of allies.

Don Miguel de Castro, Emissary of Congo, 1643, unknown Dutch Artist, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark.  Castro was part of a delegation that went to resolve a territorial dispute and travelled to Dutch Brazil and then to the Netherlands in search of allies.

Diego Bemba, servant of Don Miguel de Castro, 1643, unknown Dutch painter, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Diego Bemba, servant of Don Miguel de Castro, 1643, unknown Dutch painter, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Pedro Sunda, a servant of Don Miguel de Castro, 1643, unknown Dutch painter, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Pedro Sunda, a servant of Don Miguel de Castro, 1643, unknown Dutch painter, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

St John the Baptist, 1337/42, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

St John the Baptist, 1337/42, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of the Annunciation, from St Benedict, The Annunciation, A kneeling Nun, c1420, Lippo di Andrea, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of the Annunciation, from St Benedict, The Annunciation, A kneeling Nun, c1420, Lippo di Andrea, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

IMG_8569

Detail of the Annunciation, from St Benedict, The Annunciation, A kneeling Nun, c1420, Lippo di Andrea, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Nuptial Chest depicting the Sabine women, c1450-75, Lo Scheggia (Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi), National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Nuptial Chest depicting the Sabine women, c1450-75, Lo Scheggia (Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi), National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of Nuptial Chest depicting the Sabine women, c1450-75, Lo Scheggia (Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi), National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of Nuptial Chest depicting the Sabine women, c1450-75, Lo Scheggia (Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi), National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Portrait of a man, c1570/5, El Greco, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Portrait of a man, c1570/5, El Greco, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of the Trompe l'oeil of a letter rack with Christian V's Proclamation, 1671, Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of the Trompe l’oeil of a letter rack with Christian V’s Proclamation, 1671, Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of the Trompe l'oeil of a letter rack with Frederik III's Proclamation, 1672, Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

Detail of the Trompe l’oeil of a letter rack with Frederik III’s Proclamation, 1672, Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts, National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen, Denmark

…please click here for Part Two…

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: