‘The Europeans’ in brief
- ‘The Europeans’ is the name of a group of Danish artists from the second half of the 19th century
- They did not congregate as a group, but they were seen as such by contemporary art critics
- ‘The Europeans’ shared an interest in depicting both national and international subject matter. In this way, they challenged “the national flow” that considered Danish motifs as the most important subject matter
Right and Wrong Art
“The most exotic and most liberated figure within the party was a woman, Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann. She must have interested Høyen…but ultimately, she put herself before Høyen or her art. It has been said honestly, but not particularly sympathetically, that the very sociable and celebrated woman catered to popular taste too much.” The art historian Emil Hannover made this comment about Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann in 1907. The party he refers to is the group of artists called ‘The Europeans’ at that time.
‘The Europeans’ received their name when mid-19th-century art critics like N.L. Høyen made a distinction between Danish art and what they viewed as different. Some artists did not follow the national trend, in which people chose to paint Danish subjects in the Golden Age tradition. These artists received the collective title ‘The Europeans’. They did not meet as a group, but rather worked independently of one another. ‘The Europeans’ included Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann, Carl Bloch, David Jacobsen, Lorenz Frølich, Anton Melbye, Ludvig Abelin Schou, and Niels Simonsen.
There is a tradition of classifying contemporary art in opposing groups, with each side viewed negatively in relation to the other. This division results in a “right” art and a “wrong” art. These designations are made for various reasons. For example, Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann’s art was characterized by leading critics as “wrong.” The fact that she trained in Germany and garnered praise in a male-dominated industry informs a reading of her work.
According to art historian Peter Nørgaard Larsen, there was also a case of “bad timing.” “When Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann moved to Denmark in 1848, the odds were stacked against her…visual art played an important role in the bourgeois-liberal movement’s efforts to highlight national identity and strengthen national consciousness in the years leading up to the 1848 change of system…The Three Years’ War (1848-50) reinforced national sentiment and the latent anti-German attitudes were exposed publicly. In other words, it was a lot to overcome for a German-speaking, German-trained, and German graphic artist.”
Mystery and dark colours
Although the group of artists painted different subjects and used various modes of expression, it is difficult not to see connections in their art. L. A. Schou, who lived from 1838 to 1867, often employed the same dark, greenish tone that Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann used in many of her paintings. Seen here is his painting Diana with One of her Nymphs, or Two Amazons, from around 1865.
The technique of using dark colours places an emphasis on the characters’ faces and encourages the viewer’s gaze to penetrate the image. This is a feature that draws attention to a mystery, and is often linked to mythological or “dangerous” characters. By “dangerous,” I mean sensuous figures, which especially in the work of Jerichau Baumann, L. A. Schou, and Carl Bloch, engage the viewer, who is confronted with the picture’s seductive power.
Emil Hannover: ”Europæerne” in Karl Madsen: Kunstens historie i Danmark, 1901-07.
Jette Kjærboe Larsen: ”De nationale og de andre” 1855-1885. Kunstforeningen 1975.
Erik Mortensen: Kunstkritikkens og Kunstopfattelsens Historie i Danmark, bind 1 ”Nationen til Gavn”. København 1990
Peter Nørgaard Larsen: Åndens transcendens og kødets immanens. Dansk figurmaleri ca. 1850-1880 i genre- og mentalitetshistorisk perspektiv. Kbh.1997.
Jacob Thage, John Hunov: To europæere, L.A. Schou. Per Kirkeby. Gl. Holtegaard 1997.