In the Light of the North

Danish Painting from the Ordrupgaard Collection

The Hamburger Kunsthalle will play host from mid-May to September 2019 to works from the Ordrupgaard Museum, one of the most spectacular collections of Danish painting of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The featured works will offer visitors a representative overview of the major trends in Danish painting across an entire century while highlighting exceptional achievements. The exhibition follows the trajectory from the pioneers of the so-called »Golden Age« of Danish art (Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, Christen Købke, Wilhelm Marstrand), to representatives of the National Romantic style, who primarily explored the beauties of their own country (Johan Thomas Lundbye, Peter Christian Skovgaard, Vilhelm Kyhn), to the Fynboerne, or Funen Painters, who practiced open-air painting on the Danish island of that name (Peter Hansen, Johannes Larsen, Fritz Syberg). Finally, paintings by Theodor Philipsen, a close friend of Paul Gauguin, will illuminate the signature aspects of Danish Impressionism. 

A special highlight of the show is large groups of works by Lauritz Andersen Ring and Vilhelm Hammershøi, the key figures in Danish Symbolism. Nine of Hammershøi’s fascinating interior scenes will be presented in the final gallery.

The exhibition »In the Light of the North« takes place at an opportune moment in view of the German-Danish Cultural Friendship Year that will be celebrated in 2020. The display of works from the Ordrupgaard Museum will form the backdrop for a multifaceted supporting programme that will allow visitors to experience Danish art, literature and music in events covering multiple epochs.

The unique collection housed in the Ordrupgaard Museum, located a few kilometres north of Copenhagen, was assembled from the 1890s onwards by insurance company director Wilhelm Hansen and his wife, Henny, and opened to the public in 1953 as a state-run museum. The present renovation and expansion of the museum presents a one-off opportunity to show major works from this collection in Hamburg.

Supported by: Freunde der Kunsthalle e. V.

The exhibition is under the auspices of S.E. Friis Arne Petersen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Denmark to Germany

Topics of the exhibition

Art Awakening – The Golden Age of Danish Painting

After spending several years in Paris and Rome, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg returned to Copenhagen in 1816. This date marks the point of departure of the Golden Age of Danish Painting – a blooming of Danish art that lasted until 1848, when further turbulent times began with the Schleswig-Holstein uprising and culminated in the German-Danish war in 1864.


Eckersberg was to work as a professor at the Royal Danish Art Academy in Copenhagen for several decades from 1818 on and, during his time, initiated numerous educational reforms. He was an avid advocate of open-air painting, encouraging his students early on to practice outdoors with studies directly from nature. One of Eckersberg’s most talented students, Christen Købke, regarded this method as a central feature. He would set out enthusiastically to explore his immediate surroundings, capturing it in small formats with a fine sense for natural details, including given atmospheric effects.  
The historical and genre painter Wilhelm Marstrand had also studied under Eckersberg. Two of his travels led him to Italy, which greatly benefitted him in terms of available subjects. Moreover, from 1853 to 1857 and from 1863 to 1873, he was assigned as the director of the Copenhagen art academy; consequently, he had a considerable influence on the development of the arts in Denmark in the period subsequent to the Golden Age.

Searching for Identity – National-Romantic Perspectives

In the 19th century the Kingdom of Denmark was marked by wars and conflict – the painters Johan Thomas Lundbye, P. C. Skovgaard and Vilhelm Kyhn were active in times of extreme political tension.  Yet their paintings reveal none of this: it is a placid summer idyll that prevails here. Characteristic subjects are rolling hills, dense beech forests and coastlines. Especially Lundbye and Skovgaard found such motifs on Zealand, while Kyhn travelled to the most remote corners of Denmark, thus contributing to an artistic exploration of the country. The painters’ work served to promote the nationalistic art agenda of the then highly influential art historian Niels Laurits Høyen. Hence, their artworks illustrate precisely those features of Danish nature and history which Høyen intended to see represented with regard to the formation of the artists’ national identity. Within this context, they created highly esteemed paintings combining a kind of specific view of reality with elements of idealization – paintings which until today correspond with the widespread ideas of prototype Danish landscapes.

Regional Refuges – The Funen Painters

Funen is the second largest Danish island, which, in terms of artistic activity, was for a long time overshadowed by Zealand. At the end of the 19th century, however, a group of Funen artists who had undergone training in Copenhagen returned home and settled permanently to live and work on the island.
Close ties of friendship were held by the three main exponents of the so-called Funen Painters, Fritz Syberg, Peter Hansen and Johannes Larsen. They all had studied at the free art school Kunstnernes Frie Studieskoler and had received further relevant impulses from their colleague, the Impressionist Theodor Philipsen. The Funen Painters endeavoured to capture every-day life on the island, following the changing seasons and in a style as naturalistic as possible. And although, in the early 20th century, the painters were also confronted with critique in view of their at times naïve subjects, their works sold remarkably well. The collector Wilhelm Hansen, who had shared the same classroom with Peter Hansen, also acquired a liking for the Funen Painters’ works – as a result, several of their paintings entered his collection. 

Theodor Philipsen – Facets of Danish Impressionism

The work of Theodor Philipsen (1840–1920) is exemplary for the overall achievements of open-air painting. Moreover, the artist imparted the conceptions of French Impressionism to Denmark. In 1875 Philipsen had traveled to Paris together with his artist friend Laurits Tuxen, in order to work in the studio of Léon Bonnat.
Through his art, Philipsen would serve as a role model in Denmark and was much appreciated, for instance, by the Funen Painters (chapter 3). The latter were inspired by Philipsen’s dynamic brush strokes as much as by his intriguing grasp of light and shadow effects. His compositions often possessed a strong sense of depth, providing further dynamic force to the images. In terms of subjects, it was life in the country which remained his primary source of inspiration; he had early on developed a special penchant for the rendition of animals.
Owing to his friendship with Paul Gauguin, who had stayed in Copenhagen in 1884/85, Philipsen received further important impulses for his own artistic practice, which would also be reflected in his painting technique

Laurits Andersen Ring – On the Verge of Objectivity

Laurits Andersen Ring (originally Laurits Andersen, 1854–1933), working as a Realist and Symbolist, ranks among the most versatile painters of the fin de siècle. As the son of a wheelmaker, Ring grew up in modest circumstances in the South of Zealand. In 1881, he adopted the name of his native village Ring as his last name to avoid being confused with his same-named colleague. At the same time, this change of name was meant to reflect his attachment to the province.
Throughout his life, the socio-politically motivated painter sympathized with the weakest members of society. During the early phase of his work, in particular, he strived to capture the lifeworld of peasants, workers and the socially marginalized onto canvas. After his marriage with Sigrid Kähler in 1896, the artist expanded his field of subjects to include landscape motifs. His main focus was on the home region of Zealand. Though he followed in the footsteps of the painters of the Golden Age, he would, at the same time, break with the National Romantic traditions in landscape painting. Unique perspectives, unusual lines and the characteristic placement of objects near the edges of the image make up his greatly varied oeuvre, which, moreover, is pervaded by metaphors of death.
As a mature artist, Ring counted among the most recognized figures of his generation. He nonetheless decided against the mundane city life and for the rural remoteness of country life.

Vilhelm Hammershøi – Spaces of Silence

In the years around 1900, Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864–1916) succeeded in gaining new facets from the genre of interiors. His interiors are enigmatic manifests of emptiness and silence. The sparse furnishing of the rooms underscores their geometrical quality. A streak of subtle melancholy surrounds us in the face of these paintings. Time seems to have come to a halt in these spaces, all movement to have been banned. The perspective is a very personal one, for almost all images were created in Hammershøi’s private lodgings. If any figures are present in the paintings, then it is usually Ida, the artist’s wife. Yet the depicted figures do not allow creating a link to the observer. Instead, they will remain apparently motionless within the rooms, while giving the impression as though they considered themselves unobserved. Hammershøi’s interiors impress by a very distinct atmosphere. This notion is further enhanced by a colour palette limited to very few hues. Consequently, the light unfolds its suggestive play within the space and thus takes on the key role.