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Collectors' focus: paintings by the most celebrated artists of the Danish Golden Age--Eckersberg, Kobke and Rorbye--rarely come on the market. Discerning collectors may still acquire top-flight works on paper, however, or atmospheric paintings by lesser-known names.

Denmark's Golden Age in painting can be dated to between 1816 -when its first exponent, Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853), arrived back in Copenhagen from a transformative visit to Rome --and 1848. That year of revolution throughout Europe saw the death of the movement's most significant artist, Christen Kobke (of pneumonia, aged only 38), and shortly after, war broke out in the north German states of Schleswig-Holstein. It represents a high point of Danish engagement with the international artistic and intellectual community, with the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, writer Hans Christian Andersen and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard widely admired.

Among artists, the founding father of the Danish Golden Age school was Eckersberg. After his conservative artistic education at Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi in Copenhagen, he set off first to the studio of Jacques-Louis David in Paris, where he adopted a neoclassical clarity of composition, and then to Rome, where he took up plein air painting. In 1818, Eckersberg became a professor at Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi, which attracted artists from all over Scandinavia and northern Europe, and there he influenced a generation of young artists - including Kobke, Constantin Hansen, Wilhelm Marstrand, Jorgen Roed and Martinus Rorbye. Eckersberg would take them out into the countryside to paint, encouraging them, by example, to seek out unusual angles or modest subject matter.

Another strong influence was the German Romantic school of painting of Caspar David Friedrich, through Copenhagen's links with the northern German cities of Dresden and Hamburg, especially through painter Johan Christian Dahl. Originally Norwegian, Dahl was educated in Copenhagen and eventually settled in Dresden. Through his influence, artists such as Johan Thomas Lundbye and Peter Christian Skovgaard established Danish Romantic landscape painting. For many years, the characteristics of the Danish school--the clarity of light, the modesty of subject, the interest in architecture, whether Italian or Danish, the observation of atmospheric details and the Romanticism of the later landscapes--were overlooked. However, a series of exhibitions in the 1980s and 1990s brought these artists to the attention of collectors and museums internationally--especially in America.

As Marcus Marschall of Daxer & Marschall Kunsthandel in Munich comments: 'In the last 10 years the Metropolitan Museum in New York has bought at least 10 pictures that passed through our hands. This means that Eckersberg and Kobke are almost not available any more.' He adds: 'You can find lovely things under 10,000 [pounds sterling], but the top pieces will cost in the 100,000s [pounds sterling], rising to 500,000 [pounds sterling] for a masterpiece.' The market breaks in two: 'Plein air sketches and finished studio paintings, which are very much based on sketches.' He adds: 'This is why they are so thrilling--they reflect the shift in taste and in the perception of nature inspired by the Enlightenment.' Far from being parochial, 'these paintings are a northern European phenomenon'.

Moreover, most of the artists went to Rome where they exchanged ideas with artists from all over Europe and were inspired by the famous Italian light. The market is correspondingly international. Indeed for James Bauerle, based in Copenhagen, the local market is very much reduced. 'Young Danes are interested in modern design,' he says. 'Paintings by lesser-known names sell for 4,000 [pounds sterling]-8,000 [pounds sterling] generally, but if you have a view of the Roman forum, that will sell for more.' Sebastian Goetz at Christie's London confirms that only Eckersberg, Kobke and Johan Laurentz Jensen (1800-56) resonate internationally, unless the work can be placed in an international context--'if it was painted in Rome, or resembles German Romantic painting, or has orientalist subject matter'. He cites Rorbye's A Turkish notary drawing up a marriage contract in front of the Kilic All Pasha Mosque, Tophane, Constantinople (1837; Fig. 2), which achieved 388,750 [pounds sterling] at Christie's London back in 2000. 'Alternatively,' he adds, 'if it ticks all the boxes of Biedermeier art--that can fetch a very good price. The market right now is all about image.' Recent sales include a large, decorative still life by Jensen, dated 1840. A magnificent garland of fruit and flowers sold for 97,250 [pounds sterling] at Christie's London in November 2011, bought by a Chinese national.

Kasper Nielson of Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers in Copenhagen reckons, by contrast, that the passion for flower paintings peaked in the 1990s and early 2000s. 'Historical paintings, marine pictures and portraits are also very quiet. People prefer Romantic storytelling pictures, topographical or architectural scenes of Copenhagen and Italian scenes, especially by Eckersberg.' In 2011 the auction house sold Eckersberg's A Section of the Via Sacra, Rome (The Church of Saints Cosmas and Damian), dated c. 1814-15, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for a hammer price of 3.4m DKK (around 389,800 [pounds sterling]; Fig. 1). Claude Piening, Senior Specialist of European and Orientalist Paintings at Sotheby's London, offers a different perspective again: 'There is definitely a strong market for great Golden Age paintings if you can get your hands on them,' he says. 'I would love to see a great Rorbye landscape on the market.'

There are passionate dealers in the field. Over the last 30 years, Paris-based gallerist Jean-Francois Helm has sold a number of Danish Golden Age paintings to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, to the Louvre, and at least 30 drawings to the Frits Lugt Collection at the Fondation Custodia, Paris. He values the near abstraction in some of the plein air studies of Vilhelm Kyhn, Anders Lunde and Johan Lundbye. 'I think these are the way to bring French collectors to the Old Masters,' he says.

The Hamburg-based dealer Thomas le Claire specialises in drawings and works on paper. 'These are very sought after internationally as they are so rare,' he says. He mentions that Charles Ryskamp, the former director of the Morgan Library and the Frick was an early collector. More recently, the Art Institute of Chicago has become very active. It recently purchased a drawing of the Champs-Elysees by Eckersberg. Mr Le Claire is bringing an Eckersberg watercolour, Female Nude, Florentine (1840; Fig. 3), to Salon du Dessin in Paris in April (85,000 [euro]).
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Title Annotation:COLLECTORS' FOCUS: DANISH GOLDEN AGE PAINTING; Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, Martinus Rorbye and Christen Kobke
Author:Crichton-Miller, Emma
Geographic Code:4EUDE
Date:Mar 1, 2013
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