The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

The Sharp Pen - Holger Drachmann and the School of Eckersberg

  • Charlotte Christensen,, 1994
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Charlotte Christensen: ‘The Sharp Pen – Holger Drachmann and the School of Eckersberg’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 187-193.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

The Danish writer Holger Drachmann (1846- 1908) belonged to the group of Nordic artists who established the fame of the small fishing village of Skagen, at the northernmost point of Jutland, as an artist colony in the 1880s. He dedicated poems and short stories to the hazardous life of the rugged fishermen, and he later spent many a summer at his Skagen residence. Drachmann was a prolific and versatile author but his first education as an artist took place at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.

Entering the Academy in 1866, he chose marine painting as his particularly field of study. He left in 1870, before finishing his curriculum, but while still a student, he had undertaken two major trips to Scotland and the Mediterranean in 1867 and to London in 1870. At the same time he embarked on his career as a writer, publishing among his first articles reviews of the annual exhibition at the Academy in 1868. At that time the pupils and followers of C. W. Eckersberg still maintained positions of power, as professors and members of the hanging committee of the exhibition at Charlottenborg, seat of the Academy. Drachmann continued to paint even after the point of having chosen writing as his main career.

In his writing, Drachmann is vigorously critical both of the “Father of Danish Painting”, as Eckersberg came to be, pompously, known, as well as of the ongoing influence of his artistic ideals. Drachmann’s evaluation of Eckersberg and his school is pointedly expressed in three articles on “Danish Marine Painting” (in the review Nyt dansk Maanedsskrift, I, 1871) and, many years later, in the novel à clef Med den brede Pensel (“With the Broad Brush”), published in 1887.

Drachmann’s critical view of Eckersberg is sharply, albeit reverently expressed: He considers him not a born painter but a draughtman in disguise. Eckersberg is, allegedly, found “dull” by Drachmann’s contemporaries – born around the time when the old painter died, in 1853 – and Drachmann considers that “the paintings are photographs, yet not as accurate as photography”. But then, Eckersberg lived in an utterly pedestrian age. It can be seen, however, from Drachmann’s articles that the roseate view of what was to be (mis-) named the “Golden Age” of Danish painting had already been formed, when he mentions the pride the recent Danish school takes in its “purity and honest simplicity”.

In his novel Med den brede Pensel, Drachmann reiterates his adverse criticism of Eckersberg and his school, while also taking a dig at Thorvaldsen and his guru-like status in Rome. One of the protagonists of the book, “the Professor”, is modelled on the painter Wilhelm Marstrand. Drachmann instead advocates a new painting which must be ruthless, phantastic, gutsy, and highly personal – thereby conforming well to the title of the “Romantic Realist”, bestowed on him by the younger Danish author Herman Bang.


Holger Drachmanns skrifter er sammenstillede i Bibliografi over Holger Drachmanns Forfatterskab af Johannes Ursin. Kbh. 1956.

I denne artikel behandles Holger Drachmann: Det danske Sømaleri, I, Nyt Dansk Maanedsskrift. 1. Bind, s. 17-31 (Ursin 14), Det danske Sømaleri, II, s. 198-208 (Ursin 15), samt Det danske Sømaleri, III, s. 431-450 (Ursin 16).

Desuden Drachmann: Med den brede Pensel. Kunstnerroman. 1887 (Ursin 397: Med Titelbillede af Bogens Hovedperson og som forestiller ham selv paa Sygelejet med sin Plejerske ved sin Side. Det er Edith set Bagfra.).

Last updated 11.05.2017