Art/Museums logo

The Age of Impressionism:
European Paintings from the Ordrupgaard Collection, Copenhagen

The Walters Art Museum

February 17 to May 26, 2002

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

June 17 to September 8, 2002

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

October 6, 2002 to January 5, 2003

A Connoisseur's Collection

"Your Turn Will Come, My Beauty, The Blue Tree Trunks, Arles" by Gauguin

"Your Turn Will Come, My Beauty. The Blue Tree Trunks, Arles," by Paul Gauguin, 92 by 73 centimeters, 1888

By Carter B. Horsley

The intimate scale of small museums offers great pleasures especially when their collections were assembled by one individual.

While the Frick Art Collection here in New York, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Wallace Collection in London are superb examples of museums that represent the impressive connoisseurship of their founders, there are others not quite as famous such as the Kimball in Fort Worth and the Timken in San Diego and the Ordrupgaard in Copenhagen that have an extraordinary consistency of very high quality.

While one is tempted to look for the founder's "personality" or artistic temperament in such collections, such determinations are usually rather elusive. Collectors mature and their tastes become refined and sometimes change. What unites many of these collections is that they usually have a good percentage of "connoisseur" paintings rather than the run-of-the-mill, formulaic masterpieces, although museums need those too, of course.

The exhibition of "The Age of Impressionism: European Paintings from Ordrupaard, Copenhagen" is particularly rich in such "connoisseur" works that will delight and surprise visitors accustomed to the conventional "big names."

This small show not only has very splendid and intriguing works by such masters as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917), but very impressive works by Narciss Diaz de Pena (1807-1876), Charles-François Daubigny (1817-1878), Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Edouard Manet (1832-1883), Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Armand Guillaumin (1841-1927), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and as well as some fine works by some Danish masters such as Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916), J. Th. Lundbye (1818-1848), L. A. Ring (1854-1933), P.C. Skovgaard (1817-1875) and Christian Købke (1810-1848).

The Ordrupgaard collection was formed by Danish insurance magnate Wilhelm Hansen (1868-1936) and the collection and the country house from which it derives its name were bequeathed to the Danish State upon the death of Hansen's wife, Henny, in 1951.

Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, remarked that "It is a privilege to present these superb paintings from the Ordrupgaard Collection to American audiences, who may be unaware that one of the most representative collections of 19th century French and Danish paintings exists on the outskirts of Copenhagen." "Each splendid picture in the exhibition - be it a brilliant pastel by Degas, a Parisian streetscape by [Camille] Pissarro [1830-1903], or a luminous view of Rome by [C. K.] Eckersberg [1783-1853] - represents these artists at their highest level of accomplishment. The works also reveal Wilhelm Hansen's enduring passion for the finest painting of both his fellow Danes and the French masters who were radically altering Western art during his own lifetime."

"The Ordrupgaard exhibition is at the Metropolitan at a particularly auspicious time, as it coincides with another special exhibition in our galleries, 'Gauguin in New York Collections: The Lure of the Exotic.' The eight exceptional Gauguins in the Ordrupgaard Collection brings the total number of works by the artist to nearly 130 at the Metropolitan this summer," the director noted.

The other exhibition includes not only paintings, but also drawings, watercolors, woodcuts, and sculptures and is interesting but has few masterworks and Gauguin does not come off as well as he should so the Ordrupgaard Gauguins fell the gap nobly.

Perhaps the finest work in the 84 paintings exhibited from the Ordrupgaard collection is "Your Turn Will Come, My Beauty. The Blue Tree Trunks, Arles, 1888," shown at the top of this article, a sensational landscape that Gauguin painted in 1888 during his stay in Arles with Vincent Van Gogh.

Gauguin is famous for his Tahitian scenes but his early landscapes are perhaps his finest works as they are very original and devoid of the religious and cultural baggage of the later Tahitian paintings.

The "Blue Tree Trunks" predates the wild color schemes of the Fauves, has an incredibly rich palette that calls to mind the dazzling concoctions of Gustave Klimt, and is a very abstract work that ranks with Monet's "Poplar" series as a precursor of much later abstraction.

It has an electric energy and intensity only rivaled by Van Gogh himself.

This painting and another one by Gauguin, according to the catalogue, which the museum sells for only $29.95, "began to peel because it was painted on unprimed sackcloth." "Gauguin felt that both became more beautiful after he repaired them and them smoothed them with an iron," it added.

Landscape at Pont-Aven" by Gauguin

"Landscape at Pont-Aven," by Paul Gauguin, 92 by 73 centimeters, 1888

"Landscape at Pont-Aven" is another fine, albeit more conventional, landscape by Gauguin. "The fine, divided brushstrokes in this painting," the catalogue entry observed, "reveal Gauguin's early interest in Impressionism. A close look reveals that the paint was applied in a systematic, vertical manner that suggests an awareness of Pointilism. It should be remembered, however, that Gauguin strongly dissociated himself from Pointilism, derogatorily describing it as ripipoint."

The Ordrupgaard collection of Gauguins is formidable. "The Little One is Dreaming, Edude," is a superb 1881 composition that was one of the artist's submissions to the seventh Impressionist Exhibition in 1882. The catalogue describes it as "one of Gauguin's most important early paintings" and states that the child is his four-year-old daughter Aline. The girl lines in her wrought-iron bed with her head facing away from the viewer and behind the dark wainscoted walls are papered with a Cézanne-inspired motif of flying birds. "The ethereal subject of the wallpaper can also be read," the catalogue entry continued, "as a representation of a fantasy world of dreams and imagination, ....the dream-like character is further enhanced by the row of musical notes at the upper right that faintly echo the lullaby that initiated the child's sleep.....Only the puppet on the bedpost, with its frontal pose and striking vermilion color, clashes with the dream-like sensation. The puppet evokes the child's waking hours and serves as the observer's entry point into the composition. The puppet's anecdotal presence draws the dream to the center of attention. The birds and notes on the wall provide the picture with a strange double nature: the observer's thoughts and the child's, reality and dream....The picture is a play on the affinities between painting, music, and dreaming - between the senses and the imagination. This concept, initially launched by Delacroix and Baudelaire, was referred to as correspondances. Both in this sense and compositionally, the picture anticipates a work from Gauguin's Tahitian period."

Gauguin's "Portrait of a Young Woman" (1896) was executed during the artist's second stay in Tahiti and was a rare commission that was ordered by his neighbor, Auguste Goupil, a lawyer, journalist and politician. "With her reserved mien and covered fully by her brown robe mission," the catalogue commented, "she is an antithesis to the skimpily clad Polynesian women who were the painter's other models at the time. While the Polynesian women often appear young, the nine-year-old European girl is depicted with a mature, lifeless expression. n the context of Gauguin's work, this could be read as a comment on the black of spirit in European civilization. The china-like mask of the face - whose almost caricatured ashenness is interrupted by the blood-red slit of the mouth - has the same lack of expression as the figures of some of Gauguin's late Brittany pictures..."

"Woman Seated on a Balcony, New Orleans"

"Woman Seated on a Balcony, New Orleans (Probably Mathilde Bell, née Musson)," by Edgar Degas, 64 by 76 centimeters, 1872-5

There are many wonderful works by Edgar Degas in the collection. Perhaps the most beautiful is "Woman Seated on a Balcony, New Orleans (Probably Mathilde Bell, née Musson)," a 64-by-76-centimeter pastel on paper mounted on canvas that was executed 1872-5 when the artist was in New Orleans visiting relatives. The woman's face is exquisitely done and she looks directly at the viewer with an affectionate and intriguing intelligence. Much of the asymmetrical composition is sketchy but its seemingly unfinished state only intensifies our interest in this beautiful woman.

"Yard of a House (New Orleans, Study)" by Edgar Degas

"Yard of a House (New Orleans, Study)," by Edgar Degas, a 60-by-73.5-centimeter oil on canvas, 1873

Another similar Degas masterpiece is "Yard of a House (New Orleans, Study)," a 60-by-73.5-centimeter oil on canvas that was executed in 1873.

It shoew the back of the house on the Esplanade whose balcony is shown in "Woman Seated on a Balcony, New Orleans (Probably Mathilde Bell, née Musson)," and the children here are his relatives. Like the other painted, this one also is quite sketchy and the catalogue entry notes that "the unfinished look of the painting mirrors the subject matter: children in the process of growing up and, in a sense, becoming 'finished' human beings."

These two works are quite magnificent. They are not the familiar ballerinas that Degas would paint so often, but very interesting compositions that are very masterful. Ordrupgaard does have two exceptionally beautiful ballerina pastels by Degas as well as a great pastel of a woman combing her hair and another of a chanteuse, as well as a gouache study for "The Bellelli Family," but the New Orleans pictures are real connoisseur works that greatly expand our admiration for this marvelous artist.

"Waterloo Bridge" by Monet

"Waterloo Bridge," by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 65.5 by 100.5 centimeters, 1903

Claude Monet is the most famous Impressionist and the Ordrupgaard collection has several that are very strong such as "Waterloo Bridge," a 1903 oil on canvas, 65.5 by 100.5 centimeters, and "Seascape, Le Havre, a 1866 oil on canvas, 43 by 59.5 centimeters. Both works have an uncharacteristically grayish palette, but both are notable for their brushwork. The former is one of 42 canvases Monet executed of the London bridge and the catalogue notes that Monet loved the city's fog "because it was a vehicle for what he called the enveloppe, the atmospheric light that envelops everything," adding that Monet refused to exhibit the series individually and that this work is "one of the less foggy versions that tend to be clearer in the foreground." In "Seascape, Le Havre," the catalogue argues that "While Whistler's concentration on the atmosphere and Courbet's focus on the surging power of the waves may well have been their source of inspiration, Monet departs from both artists in his preoccupation with the way brushwork, color, and light can be manipulated to create a distinct mood....In contrast to Courbet, who seems to equate the mass of the water with the thickness of his paint, Monet dissolves the materiality of his paint and replaces it with an almost watercolor-like dilution, suggesting something unstable and fluid. The sea is not interpreted as a weighty mass, but as a vibrant material surface....This picture anticipates Monet's mature style and introduces the next phase in his career. It is probably for this reason that he chose to include it in his important joint retrospective exhibition with Rodin in 1889."

Another Ordrupgaard Monet, "The Cliffs near Sainte-Adresse, Overcast," an 1881-2 oil on canvas, 60 by 72 centimeters, is also somber in tone but even freer in its brushwork. "The picture," according to the catalogue, "has been quickly painted with relatively few strokes, and the bare, primed canvas is visible throughout the surface...Monet almost certainly worked on the picture in a single session....Nothing has been done to disguise the average, slightly boring, chilly, gray, late afternoon day. The monotony of the subject is somewhat mitigated by the color scheme, where black and red contrast with each other, and is dispelled altogether by Monet's lively brushwork." Despite its darkish tones, this is a very vibrant work.

While many collectors would opt for the artist's most colorful and perhaps happier works, these three again appeal to a more sophisticated taste that recognizes that artists have many moods and change as they mature.

"Quai de Bercy, Paris" by Guillaumin

"Quai de Bercy, Paris," by Armand Guillaumin, oil on canvas, 60 by 92 centimeters, 1885

The Ordrupgaard collection is by no means bereft of brilliantly colored Impressionists paintings and in fact has several magnificent works that show Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro at their very best. "Quai de Bercy, Paris," shown above, is a very, very strong and excellent work by Armand Guillaumin. An oil on canvas that measures 60 by 92 centimeters, it was executed in 1885. Guillaumin had participated in the 1863 Salon des Refusés and with Paul Cézanne and Camille Pissarro was part of a group that was influenced by Manet and led to the first Impressionist Exhibition of 1874. The catalogue notes, however, that Guillaumin did not receive much notice until 1880, suggesting that his subject matter of urban areas lacking historical, cultural and picturesque qualities was "not terribly engaging." "The dominant position of the crane symbolizes the industrialization of the landscape," the catalogue observed, added that "if the structure of the picture has a classical calm, its color scheme is peculiarly vibrant." The catalogue also writes that Vincent Van Gogh would become "particularly fascinated and inspired by Guillaumin's technique and choice of subjects."

The collection also has two excellent paintings by Berthe Morisot and several by Renoir.

"Woman with a Jug" by Manet

"Woman with a Jug, Portrait of Mme. Manet Holding a Ewer," by Édouard Manet, oil on canvas, 61 by 54.5 centimeters, 1858-60

One of the greatest surprises of the Ordrupgaard collection if Édouard Manet's "Woman with a Jug, Portrait of Mme. Manet Holding a Ewer." This 1858-60 oil on canvas, which measures 61 by 54.5 centimeters, could easily be mistaken for a masterpiece by Pontormo, or perhaps Correggio, or even Raphael. Manet, of course, was deeply influenced by the Old Masters and his famous "Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe," painted a few years after this work, recalls a landscape by Giorgione. In his subject matter here, Manet may have been recalling a painting by Titian.

The catalogue provides the following commentary"

"Technical investigation has revealed traces of an underlying composition: there was once a balustrade behind the woman, level with her shoulders. This discovery indicates that the picture was originally part of a large Salon work in the Renaissance spirit, a so-called grand machine, which had been subsequently cut down. The motif of the woman pouring water into a bowl has a generic-like quality but the picture lacks obvious narrative content. The woman is placed in front of a green wall with an opening that reveals a landscape stretching bac to faraway mountains. The light clothing might suggest a morning toilette, but this reading is contradicted by the woman's jewelry. The ewer and bowl have not been fully painted and are conspicuous in their strangely skewed planes. Similarly there is a striking contrast between the peferctily modeled left hand that holds the jug and the right hand, which is only sketchily suggested. The model is Suzanne Leenhoff, who later became Manet's wife. She was of Dutch origin, but lived in Paris, where she made her living as a music teacher."

What is marvelous about this work is that it synthesizes many Italian Renaissance influences and produces a work that is as beautiful as the best of Bellini and Cima and the others mentioned above but which is more intimate but at the same time monumental. The "unfinished" right hand is, of course, puzzling and the landscape in the window is very sketchy in comparison with the fineness of the portrait, but sometimes artists are intentional imperfect....

"The Ruse, Roedeer Hunting Episode" by Courbet

"The Ruse, Roedeer Hunting Episode (France-Comté)," by Gustave Courbet, oil on canvas, 97 by 130 centimeters, 1866

Gustave Courbet was disenchanted with much of the academic subject matter that dealt with mythology, history and religion and his art is about realism. The catalogue notes that this work can be read as an allegory of love and that the two deer are painted in a different style from the landscape, making it almost surreal. It is a stunning painting.

The collection has two other good Courbets including one coastal scene, but another surprise is a very large seascape by Charles-François Daubigny that many visitors to the exhibition may well mistake at first glance for a major Courbet. Entitled "Seascape (Overcast)," the 83.5-by-147-centimeter oil on canvas was executed in 1874.

Another work that some might initially mistake for a Courbet is "Pack of Hounds in the Forest of Fontainebleau," an 1848 oil on canvas, 103 by 82 centimeters, by Narcisse Diaz de la Pena. The impressive "work won first prize at the Salon of 1848

"Women bathing" by Cézanne

"Women bathing," by Paul Cézanne, oil on canvas, 47 by 77 centimeters, circa 1895

Despite its many Gauguins, the exhibition does not contain any works by Vincent van Gogh, but it does have a good bathers painting by Paul Cézanne, shown above, "Women bathing." Paul Cézanne did many pictures of nude women bathing during his career and the Ordrupgaard collection has a good example that the catalogue notes was "made in the context of other pictures, photographs, and reproductions of nude figures form the Musée du Louvre and in Cézanne's early drawings and sketches of work by Delacroix, Michelangelo, Puget and Rubens." "This frieze-like composition - vivid as it is in painterly terms - is just as artificial, construced, and conceptual as his strange early figure paintings. ...In Cézanne's work the spiritual, in the Symbolist sense, has no place, just as his Utopian vision includes neither concrete nor imagined physical reality. His bathers are a far cry from the nymphs and carefree nude figures found in the pictures of Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse. Cézanne's bathers are physically present but paradocially dispasionate and inactive. It is a concept of joie de vivre that lacks both joie and vivre."

This wonderful exhibition also includes a stunning though small selection of masterworks by some 19th Century Danish painters.

"Young Woman Sewing" by Hammerchøi

"Young Woman Sewing, The Artist's Sister Anna Hammerchøi," by Vilhelm Hammerchøi, oil on canvas, 37 by 35 centimeters, 1887

Although he was familiar with French Impressionism, Vilhelm Hammerchøi had a different temperament, one that is cool and refined and clearly inspired by the luminous works of Vermeer. "Young Woman Sewing, The Artist's Sister Anna Hammerchøi," shown above, was actually controversial when it was submitted to the 1888 Charlottenborg Exhibition where it was rejected and subsequently included in a group exhibition of refused paintings. The next year, however, it was awarded a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris! It is a sensational and very lovely painting.

"Dust Motes Dancing in Sunlight" by Hammerchøi

"Dust Motes Dancing in Sunlight, Interior from the Artist's Home, Strandgade 30," by Vilhelm Hammerchøi, oil on canvas, 70 by 59 centimeters, 1900

Hammerchøi would become fascinated with interiors and the study of light and "Dust Motes Dancing in Sunlight, Interior from the Artist's Home, Strandgade 30," a 1900 oil on canvas, 70 by 59 centimeters, is a fantastic study of his home in Copenhagen. Visitors to this exhibition are certain to rank Hammerchøi high on their list of masters. In 1998, the Ordrupgaard Collection organized a Hammerchøi retrospective exhibition that traveled to the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

"Landscape, Serup Vang" by Lundbye

"Landscape, Serup Vang," by J. Th. Lundbye, oil on canvas, 57 by 73 centimeters, 1841

Denmark has its earlier Golden Age of landscape and such works as "Landscape, Serup Vang," by J. Th. Lundbye are sure to come as something of a shock to lovers of America's Hudson River School. This large, arcadian style is rendered with a fabulous quality of light and superb technique. It is idyllic and very beautiful.

Wilhelm Hansen manager two important Danish insurance companies, Hafnia and Dansk Folkeforsikringanstalt and was a co-founder of the French national insurance company, La Populaire. He was committed to Volapük. a world language that would be superceded eventually by Esperanto. He and his wife initially collected Danish painters but as he began to spend time in Paris beginning in 1902 he dreamed of assembling a dozen works by the finest 19th century artists. He made his first purchases of French paintings in 1916. He received advice from critic Théodore Duret but World War I made purchases difficult. After the war, Hansen joined forces with Herman Heilbuth and the art dealers Winkel and Mangussen to form a consortium to buy and sell art to obtain good and outstanding art for Scandinavia. They bought 233 works form the Montaignac collection and the Sarlin collection and the George Viau collection as well as acquiring works from such dealers as Durand-Ruel, Tempelaere and Vollard, but were unsuccessful in getting the collection of Auguste Pellerin, which contained about 70 Cézannes. They also got 28 paintings from the collectionof Alphonse Kann. Hansen opened his collection of 156 French works to the public in 1918, but four years later the collapse of the Landmandsbanken forced him to sell pictues to pay off debts. He offered them to Denmark for just one million kroner, but the government did not act. Dr. Albert Barnes of Merion, Pa., was also approached but in the end most of the paintings were sold to Kojiro Matsukata of Tokyo and Oskar Reinhardt of Winterthur, Switzerland. Matsukata's pictures are now in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. About half of Hansen's collection was sold for a total of about 1.6 million francs. Among the works sold were seven Cézannes, four Gauguins, several Monet's including an example from the Rouen series, six Manets, seven Sisleys, and a Van Gogh portrait of Pere Tanguy that went to the Ny Carlsberg Foundaton in Copenhagen.

Remarkably, Hansen kept on collecting....


Home Page of The City Review