The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

The Busy Hands of Women

  • Margit Mogensen,, 1994
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Margit Mogensen: ‘The Busy Hands of Women (Juel’s and Eckersberg’s portraits in a patriotic light)’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 83-93.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

Juel’s and Eckersberg’s portraits in a patriotic light

Diligence and thrift became ideals during the period of Danish absolutism together with an element of ‘love of the mother country’. Artists and scholars were expected to interpret these ideals in their works.

In this article selected female portraits by the painters Jens Juel and C. W. Eckersberg are examined in order to establish whether and by what means the portraits reflect the patriotism and the views on feminity of the period. In Juel’s early paintings women are usually shown sewing lace. However, when the influence of Rousseau’s ideas made itself felt in the 1780s, women were often depicted close to nature with flowers and a child. These tendencies coincided with a period of prosperity and rural reform.

When the financial crisis began in 1807 (because of the war against England) the patriotic ideals changed again. In Eckersberg’s famous portrait of a burgher’s wife, ’Madam Schmidt’, 1818, the work of knitting stockings plays an important part. Even this well-to-do woman had to demonstrate her diligence.

During the 1830s artists abandoned the homes of the bourgeois. At the end of ‘the Golden Age’ younger artists often preferred rural models and motifs, since they were considered more “national”. However, this did not mean that the knitting of stockings disappeared from portraits of women, but it changed hands and survived in painting for a while as a ‘new’ symbol of national and feminine behaviour. Margit Mogensen

Last updated 11.05.2017