The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

A Sergel on the Skaw

  • Hanne Westergaard, arkivet.thorvaldsensmuseum.dk, 1989
  • This is a re-publication of the summary of the article: Hanne Westergaard: ‘A Sergel on the Skaw’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1989, p. 80-83.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

In the home of the painters Michael and Anna Ancher on the Skaw, there were many drawings by the Golden Age painter Wilhelm Marstrand (1810-1873). His illustrations for Ludvig Holberg’s comedies became for Danes the quintessence of Ludvig Holberg.

Also hanging in the Anchers’ home – in a place of honour – was the drawing discussed in the article. It is unsigned, and consists of two right profiles of a thickset man with glasses and a pigtail. It was drawn with pen and brown ink, and lightly washed with grey. Shortly after 1928, in an inventory of the Anchers’ private art collection, the Marstrand expert par excellence Karl Madsen identified it as a drawing by Marstrand.

In connection with the conversion of the collection into a museum in the years following 1964, Jan Zibrandtsen saw the drawing and compared it with Karl Madsen’s ascription, which latter surprised him. It appeared to him to be by the Swedish sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel (1740-1814). In 1979 Zibrandtsen had the opportunity of taking the drawing to Stockholm, where Ulf Cederlöf at the National Museum was immediately able to confirm his suspicions. The drawing is by Sergel, and portrays his good friend Ehrensvärd. It is from 1796 and was brought to Copenhagen early in the winter of 1797 and presented to Sergei’s other good friend, the painter N. A. Abildgaard. Either at the auction in 1818 following the latter’s death or that of his widow in 1850, it was sold. Thereafter nothing is recorded.

But how could Karl Madsen and the Anchers be so utterly wrong about the drawing, which does not in the least resemble Marstrand’s style? Perhaps because the costume had something to do with the Holberg period — and this was especially obvious around 1900, when the great Danish Holberg actor, Olaf Poulsen, restyled some of the most important Holberg figures as regards their costumes and masks, precisely on the basis of Marstrand’s illustrations. Cause and effect became interchanged. From the drawing’s incredibly vital figure, whose physiognomy resembles that of Olaf Poulsen, one deduced backwards that it must have been by Marstrand. Ergo.

Last updated 11.05.2017