Exhibition | News about the art | 31.mar.2011

Abildgaard – Open Studio

Visitors to the National Gallery of Denmark can now follow the Gallery’s conservators as they painstakingly restore three Danish masterpieces. The patients being treated are from the Christiansborg Palace, now the seat of the Danish Parliament, and comprise the three surviving paintings from Nicolai Abildgaard’s gargantuan labour for the Royal castle; an endeavour which was largely lost in the first fire at Christiansborg.

Abildgaard – Open Studio
Restoring three masterpieces from Christiansborg Palace
National Gallery of Denmark
Until 24 June 2011

”There my name goes up in flames,” Nicolai Abildgaard (1743-1809) supposedly lamented at the sight of the burning castle one February night in 1794. Thirteen years of labour fell prey to the flames just three years after the artist had put the finishing touches to his work at the Great Hall in the old Christiansborg Palace. His contributions to the palace interior, which were regarded as a milestone within Danish art even in their own time, were severely culled. Only three out of the total of ten large-scale paintings by Abildgaard were rescued from the burning palace, which at the time served as the king’s dwelling.

From the Royal Reception Rooms
The three large-scale (circa 300 x 200 cm) paintings are usually found in the so-called “Abildgaard Room”, a part of the Royal Reception Rooms at the presentday Christiansborg Palace, just a few metres away from Bjørn Nørgaard’s tapestries in the Great Hall. Here, they grace royal events such as state visits, formal dinners, and New Year receptions, and the public are allowed to visit the rooms when the Queen is not using them.

Open Studio
During the preparations for the National Gallery of Denmark’s large retrospective on Nicolai Abildgaard in 2009 the Gallery’s conservation staff noted the dire aesthetic shortcomings of the paintings’ condition. Darkened restorations and yellowing varnish blighted the paintings, and several instances of old, unrestored damage to the pigments and canvases were quite obvious.

Now the three large paintings will undergo a much-needed and quite comprehensive restoration, enabling them to continue to delight visitors to the Royal Reception Rooms at Christiansborg. As was the case when the Gallery carried out its restoration of Jacob Jordaens' giant painting The Tribute Money a few years back, the Gallery’s conservators will work on the restoration in an open studio. In room 272 all Gallery visitors can watch the works undergo their gradual transformation as they are restored to their past splendour. Concurrently with the project, and as part of a major research project on Abildgaard’s materials and technique, the conservators will also conduct a number of technical studies of the three works. Regular information updates will follow the course of the restoration, and once a week the conservators will tell visitors about the work and their progress.

Criticising the System from the Heart of Power
Having just come back from a five-year stay in Rome and recently appointed as Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art, Abildgaard began working on the Great Hall in 1778. The Court’s intentions were for this ambitious commission to turn the enormous room (39 x 19.8 x 15m) into a decorative celebration of the history of the Danish kingdom, dating all the way back to the heathen kings and then tracing developments from the first Christian kings to the rise of the current royal family, the Oldenburgs. From the very outset Abildgaard was charged with beginning with the most recent events, i.e. illustrating the noblest achievements of the Oldenburgs.

While working, however, the artist fell foul of the court due to his political beliefs. Greatly influenced by the republican sensibilities wafting in from Paris, Abildgaard was a strong advocate of reform within the absolute monarchy of Denmark – both in his art and outside of it. However, his plans for incorporating a large allegory on the abolition of adscription did not find favour with his employer. At the same time, the artist had incorporated a subtle, but critical reimagining of the positions of power, e.g by presenting the Danish king in a more even, subdued light. Whether political disagreement led to Abildgaard’s dismissal is not known. However, Abildgaard had to leave the project in 1791, officially due to cutbacks, after having handed in his final painting depicting the history of the Oldenburg line.

The project is co-funded by the Danish Palaces and Properties Agency, The Beckett Foundation, and the Knud Højgaard Foundation.

PRESS PHOTOS are available for download at

National Gallery of Denmark

Head of Press
Jakob Fibiger Andreasen
T  +45 3374 8474
M +45 2961 6949

Troels Filtenborg
T +45 3374 8552

Christiansborg Palace Administration

Communication coordinator
Mikael Rasmus Nielsen
T +45 3392 7084

Updated: 8.may.2018
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