Highlights

Peter Christian Skovgaard (1817-75), A Beech Wood in May near Iselingen Manor, Zealand, 1857

Peter Christian Skovgaard (1817-75): A Beech Wood in May near Iselingen Manor, Zealand, 1857.

Peter Christian Skovgaard (1817-75): A Beech Wood in May near Iselingen Manor, Zealand, 1857. 189,5x158,5 cm. KMS4580
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Around 1820 the poet Adam Oehlenschläger (1779-1850) wrote his tribute to Denmark, Der er et yndigt land, which only a few decades later became the lyrics of Denmark’s national anthem. The last stanzas in the song pay homage to the beech as a symbol of the nation.

The sunlit Danish beech forest as preffered motif
During the same period, P.C. Skovgaard’s preferred motif was the sunlit Danish beech forest. He was influenced by a programme within the art scene where painting was singled out as the media chosen to communicate a new national selfawareness.

However, the beech idyll in this picture is also about things closer to home, as it were. The children in the scene belong to the same family as the person who commissioned the work, the scene is set at a manor house on Southern Zealand, and the fresh and delicate green of the beech forest reflects the rich promises of childhood, of first beginnings.

The painting's composition
Such an image leaves little place for the children’s grandfather, who has quite literally been pushed into the background. In the foreground the artist minutely presents the flora found in beech forest floors, the national biotope – and the central element of the picture is the young descendent of the manor, wearing a red-white dress as a colouristic accent against all the greens.


One the one hand ... and on the other hand

P.C. Skovgaard, A Beech Wood in May, Zealand, 1857

On the one hand:

"The 19th century saw the creation of the concept of a national, democratic community as a counterweight to absolute monarchy. Landscape painting was regarded as a suitable vehicle for the purpose. Depictions of forests, lakes, and rural idylls served as clear contrast to royalty’s penchant for grandly magnificent figure painting. Quintessentially Danish landscapes were called upon to shape a sense of Danish patriotism. The poet and politician Carl Ploug, who was a friend of the owners of Iselingen, described the beech forest, rather than the ancient oak forests, as a symbol of the nation that would rise after the fall of absolute monarchy. Skovgaard’s paintings became icons of Danishness within the country itself, but it proved rather more difficult to “brand” the nation to non-Danish audiences through art. At the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878, where Skovgaard was prominently featured, a French critic stated that “Denmark may have artists, but no art”.

Henrik Holm, Research Curator

One the other hand:

"Martin Hammerich, a headmaster, commissioned Skovgaard’s painting for his flat in the Christianshavn area of Copenhagen. The painting was intended to hang opposite a copy of Raphael’s Sistine Madonna painted by Jørgen Roed. It might seem as if a Renaissance altarpiece and a landscape painting from the Golden Age of Danish art are entirely incompatible entities. Yet in a certain sense Skovgaard’s painting can be viewed as a companion to Raphael’s religious vision. In Skovgaard’s work, the beech forest is a place of harmony, a place of undisturbed balance between man and nature. The trees even form a space reminiscent of the inside of a church, thereby adding a religious dimension to the motif. In other words, Skovgaard has painted a 19th century vision of an earthly paradise for the common man."

Kasper Monrad, Senior Research Curator


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Updated: 8.apr.2014
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