Vilhelm Bissen (1836-1913), A Lady. Emilie Marie Rovsing, née Raaschou, 1891
With her fashionable dress and up-to-the-minute plumed hat, Vilhelm Bissen’s Lady might have stepped straight out of a magazine from her day. With the lift in her dress, the exposed shoe, and the swaying spectator’s pose she might be a guest at an art exhibition.
Sculpture does not concern itself with ephemera, least of all marble sculptures. Nevertheless, Bissen sought to unite the immediate and the monumental.
The heritage from Thorvaldsen
On his travels to Paris Bissen came across a more realistic vein of sculpture than the classical idealism familiar to him from the works of his father, H.W. Bissen (1798-1868), and Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). The heritage from the grand father figure of Danish sculpture, Thorvaldsen, was not just a gift; it was also a burden that Bissen’s contemporaries found it difficult to liberate themselves from. Bissen, by contrast, challenged tradition and gradually moved away from Thorvaldsen towards the realism that characterised the art of the times.
With its virtuoso realism, A Lady represents a high-water mark within the Danish sculpture of the day. It is also, however, a work that challenges the limits of what sculpture can accomplish, and indeed the lady had no immediate company.