The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

Artist’s Portrait – Self-Portrait

  • Jens Peter Munk,, 1994
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Jens Peter Munk: ‘Artist’s Portrait – Self-Portrait’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 103-113.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

This paper examines the various types of portraits peculiar to the Danish Golden Age. To a certain degree the painters documented their own artistic environment, and their social and cultural self-knowledge is often reflected in their works. Thus we find them as pupils at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, drawing from plaster casts or working in the life class. Or they are seen working in the more intimate atmosphere of their own or Professor Eckersberg’s studio. Sketches drawn or painted out-of- doors were brought home to be used in more elaborate studio paintings. Portraits of artists had the same rather stereotyped iconography as at any other time: They are portrayed dressed in a smock and, sometimes, headgear, with pencil, brush or modelling tools in hand.

What makes many of these portraits so different and enjoyable is the immediacy of the rendering. Even without attributes the depiction of one artist by the other showed a rather relaxed attitude: sprawling astride a chair, smoking a pipe, without a collar, and in shirt sleeves. Of course, one’s brother artist might also be dressed up formally and used as a model for practice until the first official portrait commission turned up. As a matter of fact, very few genuinely official artist’s portraits were commissioned during the Golden Age. Living and working together was a fairly widespread phenomenon among young artists, in Copenhagen during and even after academic studies or in Rome, where many of them stayed for a period to broaden their cultural and artistic views. Part of the journey to Italy was undertaken on foot. The motif of the artist as a wanderer belongs to the romantic era, and it is a recurring theme in many drawings and paintings of the time. The carefree Roman life of the artists has been epigrammatically described by Constantin Hansen and Blunck, among others. After returning from the Eternal City and entering into married life the artist en famille sometimes occasioned idyllic and anecdotal depictions. But soon higher artistic ideals – and the necessity of earning a living – left little room for such playful portrayals.

Last updated 11.05.2017