Three works by German-Danish artist Louis Gurlitt

By on June 28, 2017

National Museum has acquired three works by the German-Danish artist Louis Gurlitt (1812-1897), which together show on various sides of a diverse artistry. Gurlitt studied in Copenhagen and was considered early as a promising name in Danish painting, but was already disused in Danish art history in the 18th century because of the Danish-German border conflict. He is now again counting as an important representative of Danish Golden Age, and reminds at the same time about their close links to German visual arts.

Louis Gurlitt was born in Altona, west of Hamburg, which until 1864 was the second largest city of the Danish monarchy. He received his first artistic education in Hamburg, but was adopted in 1832 at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, where he studied for example Christopher Wilhelm Eckersberg. A self-portrait, recently acquired at an auction in Paris, was painted in 1833 by the then 21-year-old Gurlitt. It shows a young self-conscious artist in an elegant green paint coat that protects the proprietary outfit from oil paint stains. That year, Gurlitt received a silver medal from the Academy. This was the outer sign that he was already regarded as one of Denmark’s great future hopes in Copenhagen during the study period, mainly because of his landscapes from North Zealand.

Gurlitt, however, was not satisfied with a Danish perspective but chose to travel abroad, first to Munich 1836-1837. It is clear that it was mainly among contemporary German artists he brought the role models to his heroizing landscape painting with a refined light study. This can be clearly seen in another of the museum’s acquisitions, a landscape from Berchtesgaden. The old mill, which is the main motive of painting, gets its water flow through a seemingly fragile construction. In one place, the gutter and water leak down to the ground. Gurlitt has in a subtle way depicted how the sunlight is reflected by the shining water.

The following years spent Gurlitt in Bavaria and northern Italy, then returning to Copenhagen, where he joined the Royal Academy in 1840. The reception piece was a landscape from the Silesian city of Jutland. The motive choice was strategic because Jutland was both perceived as exotic and one of the most original Danish. Despite this and several orders from Christian VIII, there was nothing that could really keep Gurlitt in Denmark. Probably, he already knew of the strong Danish nationalist wind that blew, which he must have experienced as provocative as a German-speaking subject from one of the Danish king’s northern German duchies. Therefore steered Gurlitt towards south, first against Italy. He was one in the line of comrades from Copenhagen who sought out the picturesque motives around Rome and the Naples area. Already Købke, Petzholdt and Hansen had painted the magnificent Marina Piccola on Capri before him. Nevertheless, few like Gurlitt so masterfully managed to capture the subject in all its details. It is one of the artist’s studio versions of the motif, painted in Rome 1844, which the National Museum managed to acquire in Danish art trade. Despite the artistic and technical brilliance of this painting, Louis Gurlitt is still one of the 1800’s most underrated landscape painters.

The acquisition has been made possible through donations from the Wiros Fund. The National Museum has no own means of acquiring arts and crafts for but collections enriched by gifts and private foundation and funds.

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