COPENHAGEN. The National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst – SMK) has received a spectacular gift: a painting by one of the most important landscape artists ever to come out of Germany, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). The acquisition is nothing short of marvellous, says SMK director Mikkel Bogh, and in fact the painting came into the museum’s hands through something of a coincidence.
The SMK (Sølvgade 48-50, DK-1307 København K) collections are now enriched by an important new work. Thanks to truly extraordinary support from the Augustinus Foundation, Aage and Johanne Louis-Hansen’s Foundation and the A.P. Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation, the museum has been able to acquire the painting After the Storm from 1817 by the German artist Caspar David Friedrich.
Friedrich holds a special position within Romantic art and is considered the most important German painter of the first half of the nineteenth century. His landscapes are carried by a dual approach: a visionary outlook on nature and a meticulous study of even the smallest of natural phenomena. Depictions of nature imbued with a keenly felt spiritual or religious quality are an important aspect of his art. SMK has long wished to acquire a painting by Friedrich, says Mikkel Bogh, director of SMK.
„We have dreamt of adding Caspar David Friedrich to our collection for a long time, and we’ve been particularly interested in this painting. Friedrich, whose approach to landscapes had a massive impact on Nordic art in the nineteenth century, very rarely appears on the art market. This work is a truly unique and magnificent addition to our collection of European art, and I am very pleased that we are now able to share this painting with our guests,” says Mikkel Bogh.
In After the Storm a ship has run off course, smashing onto the rocks. But perhaps the rocks are also the ship’s salvation, embedding it on firm ground. Ships at sea were a recurring theme in Caspar David Friedrich’s art, often symbolising the journey of life. Perhaps this scene shows the firm bedrock of faith saving the ship.
After the Storm belongs to Friedrich’s mature period, a time when several of his most important works were created. Its subject matter prefigures his masterpiece The Sea of Ice from 1824. On the back of the old nineteenth century frame is a wax seal that provides key information about the past history of the painting. The seal belongs to a Dresden family called Bongardt, which presumably acquired the painting back in Friedrich’s own day, and the work remained in the family’s ownership until 1956. This is to say that the painting did not change hands during the years of Nazi rule. The most recent owner bought the painting in the late 1980s, and it was presented to the public through Galerie Arnoldi-Livie in Munich in 1987.
The then-director of SMK, Villads Villadsen, contacted the gallery to inquire about the price, but at the time it was beyond the museum’s purse. The painting remained unsold, but was loaned to Neue Pinakothek in Munich, where it hung for twenty-five years. SMK borrowed it for the exhibition Caspar David Friedrich and Denmark in 1991. The fact that the Friedrich painting has now found a new home at SMK is something of a coincidence, explains Kasper Monrad, chief curator and senior researcher at SMK.
„Amusingly, the process was actually launched by a rather too fantastical proposition. Back in 2012, a Danish art dealer contacted us, offering to sell us this exact painting. The price was somewhat vague, but quite high, and it was not quite possible to ascertain whether the art dealer actually had the painting in his possession or whether he was merely a go-between. After some time, however, he announced that the painting had been sold to an American art museum. When I saw the painting in its accustomed place at Neue Pinakothek a few weeks later, I was of course rather surprised and so contacted its owners - who had never heard of the Danish art dealer. The painting was not for sale at that time, but we had an excellent chat, and the owners promised that they would keep SMK in mind if they ever decided to sell. They did so a few months ago,” relates Kasper Monrad.
Friedrich’s paintings are highly sought-after, and only very few remain in private ownership. Over the last twenty-five years only five paintings have been sold at auction. Four out of those five have ended up at some of the leading museums in the world: the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Louvre in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
About the Artist
Friedrich’s art was well known and much admired in Denmark during his own day, and after studying art in Copenhagen in 1794-1798 he maintained some contact with the Danish art scene. He lived in Dresden, but several Danish artists made his acquaintance, not least due to his friendship with the Norwegian landscape painter J.C. Dahl (1788-1857). His painstaking study of nature in particular linked Friedrich to Danish art. Several young Danish painters looked to Friedrich for inspiration, wanting a more atmospheric and Romantic feel to their art than was offered by their teacher, Christoffer Eckersberg (1783-1853). At SMK After the Storm hangs in Room 217 E, side by side with paintings by J.C. Dahl and other landscape painters of the Romantic era.
Caspar David Friedrich grew up in Greifswald near the Baltic Sea, and he visited the nearby island of Rügen all his life. Here he repeatedly observed the sky and sea in all weathers, and coastal scenes and marines make up a very sizable part of his paintings and drawings. It is likely that his preliminary sketches for After the Storm were made at the coast of Rügen. The dramatic, finely nuanced depiction of the stormy sky testifies to how Friedrich, like many other European painters, was keenly interested in exploring cloud formations and changing lighting conditions. He has very carefully portrayed details such as the gulls, the partially broken mast, the fluttering ropes and the rain falling out at sea.
Friedrich’s art was well known and much admired in Denmark during his own day, and after studying art in Copenhagen in 1794-1798 he maintained some contact with the Danish art scene. He lived in Dresden, but several Danish artists made his acquaintance, not least due to his friendship with the Norwegian landscape painter J.C. Dahl (1788-1857). His painstaking study of nature in particular linked Friedrich to Danish art. Several young Danish painters looked to Friedrich for inspiration, wanting a more atmospheric and Romantic feel to their art than was offered by their teacher, Christoffer Eckersberg (1783-1853).
At SMK After the Storm hangs in Room 217 E, side by side with paintings by J.C. Dahl and other landscape painters of the Romantic era.