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Get to know C.W. Eckersberg: A Beautiful Lie at National Gallery of Denmark
8 October, 2015
Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg was born in 1783 and grew up in the south of Denmark. Wanting to become a history painter, Eckersberg went to Copenhagen in 1803 to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. From 1810 to 1816 Eckersberg continued his studies in Paris and Rome, developing new approaches to history painting and introducing open-air painting in Danish art. Scrupulousness, soberness and careful observation of minute details are keywords for understanding Eckersberg. He was meticulous about keeping his diary and worked extensively with the perspective view in his works.
C.W. Eckersberg is known for his virtuoso craftsmanship and attention to detail. At first glance his works seem to be exact representations of reality, but in fact Eckersberg adjusted and restaged his subject matter, trimming away anything that was less than beautiful. A major exhibition presented at the National Gallery of Denmark from October 8 and until January 24, 2016, shines the spotlight on one of the key figures of the Danish Golden Age of art – and on his endeavours to create the perfect picture. The exhibition will include several paintings that have not been on public display for more than a hundred years.
The view of Rome through the three arches is enchanting. In the distance we see churches, ancient ruins and grasslands. And as spectators we get the impression that C.W. Eckersberg’s most famous work, A View through Three of the North-Western Arches of the Third Storey of the Coliseum in Rome (1815) is a photo-realistic depiction of the gorgeous Roman landscape, shown exactly as Eckersberg would have seen it while painting. However, if we visit the site and stand in exactly the same spot, we find that it is impossible to take in the view from all three arches simultaneously. Eckersberg has built up a slice of the world himself, giving priority to the beautiful and the harmonious over the strictly truthful.
From October 8th the SMK, National Gallery of Denmark will present the exhibition A Beautiful Lie – Eckersberg, which will span Eckersberg’s entire, impressive body of work – from portraits of affluent families to monumental marines to unflinchingly realistic depictions of the naked human body. The exhibition is based on extensive research done at the SMK in recent years; research that has led to a new, more nuanced view of Eckersberg’s work.
Eckersberg was propelled by an intense striving to capture reality and to find new subject matter that had not already been too extensively treated by others. However, Eckersberg’s endeavour to paint true pictures did not mean that he reproduced reality exactly as he saw it, with all details included. He erased, adjusted and ignored what he found ugly. He restaged reality and constructed his own.
The exhibition features a total of 95 paintings and 25 drawings by Eckersberg. Many of those works have not been on public display since the most recent Eckersberg exhibitions in 1983. Several of the paintings have not been exhibited since 1895, and one – Ulysses Fleeing the Cave of Polyphemus from 1812 – has never been exhibited before in Denmark. It will be on loan to the SMK from Princeton University.
The exhibition will tell the full story of Eckersberg’s work, inviting visitors to join Eckersberg on a journey through five distinctive universes, including Nature, Storytelling and The Human Body.
The SMK owns the world’s largest and richest collection of Eckersberg’s art. Eckersberg is enjoying ever-growing acclaim outside of Denmark, and the exhibition will subsequently be shown at Hamburger Kunsthalle and at The Custodial Fondation in Paris.