Eilif Peterssen

Self portrait by Eilif Peterssen (1876)

My featured artist today is one who produced many paintings of differing genres, such as history paintings, landscape and seascape paintings and portraiture.

 Hjalmar Eilif Emanuel Peterssen was born on September 4th, 1852 in Christiania, (known as Oslo since 1925), and spent his early life in the Christiania borough of Frogner.  He attended the local schools and at the age of seventeen enrolled at the city’s Johan Fredrik Eckersberg School of Painting.  This painting school, on Lille Grensen in Christiania, had been established in 1859 by the Norwegian artist, Johan Fredrik Eckersberg. After Eckersberg’s death in 1870, the running of the school was taken over by two Norwegian painters Knud Bergslien and Morten Müller.

Eilif Peterssen by Peder Severin Kroyer (1883)

From there, in 1871, Peterssen went to Denmark and studied briefly at the Art Academy in Copenhagen.  Later that year, Peterssen travelled to the German city of Karlsruhe where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and was student of Ludwig des Coudres, the German history and portrait painter and first director of the academy, and the German landscape painter, Wilhelm Riefstahl.  Also resident professor at the Academy was Hans Gude, who was considered to be one of Norway’s foremost landscape painters.  Another painter who influenced Peterssen during his stay in Karlsruhe was the history painter Carl Friedrich Lessings and his richly landscaped landscapes with historical scenes.  Lessings was a director at the Academy.

 In the Autumn of 1873, Peterssen moved to Munich he became a pupil at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts and one of his tutors was Wilhelm von Diez, the German painter and illustrator of the Munich School.  He also spent time studying under Franz von Lenbach.

Christian II signing the Death Warrant of Torben Oxe by Eilif Peterssen

Every successful artist needs to have had a breakthrough painting, one which announces his arrival on the art scene.  For Peterssen his breakthrough work was an historical painting he completed in 1876 entitled Christian II Signing the Death Warrant of Torben Oxe.  The story behind the depiction is from sixteenth century history of the Nordic countries.  Christian II was the last Roman Catholic king of Denmark and Torben Oxe was a noble who was appointed Governor of Copenhagen Castle. In the summer of 1517, Dyveke Sigbritsdatter, the king’s mistress, fell ill and died and Torben Oxe was accused by Dyveke’s mother of her daughter’s murder by poisoning her through a box of cherries. Christian II believed the accusation and condemned his friend Oxe to death.  In the painting we see Christian, unmoved by the momentous event, signing the death warrant.  His wife, is at her husband’s left and is seen pleading with her husband for Oxe’s life.  Oxe was beheaded, and his body burned.

Three Women in Church by Wilhelm Leibl (1878-81)

Eilif Peterssen’s portraiture had become very popular and besides his commissioned works he would paint many un-commissioned portraits of people.  In my Daily Art Display of March 1st, 2011, I showcased an oil on mahogany masterpiece by the acclaimed German realist artist Wilhelm Liebl entitled Three Women in a Church.  He started the work in October 1878 and did not complete it until December 1881.  It is a depiction of three women of three different generations, dressed in regional costumes, sitting in a church.

In the Church by Eilif Peterssen (1878)

In 1878 Peterssen completed a very similar depiction, Under Salmesangen (In the Church).  Again, like Liebl’s work, Peterssen has depicted three women of different generations sitting together.  The old lady, dressed in widow’s garb is seated in the centre with her hands clasped in prayer and rosary beads dangling from her wrists.  She looks upwards as she prays. Maybe she is asking for divine strength to carry on with life. To her right sits a young girl, curls of her red hair lay across her forehead and to the old lady’s left sits a young woman, who with folded hands, demurely peruses her hymn book.  I like the way Peterssen has depicted the facial expression of the young woman – shy and demure, and lost in thought.

Judas Iskariot by Eilif Peterssen (1878)

In the same year he painted a religious work entitled Judas Iskariot which is housed in the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromso.  The light from the lamp that Judas is carrying lights up the face of Christ.  I am fascinated by Peterssen’s depiction of Christ’s facial expression in the painting.

Mary, Christ’s Mother by Eilif Peterssen (1877)

The previous year, 1877, Peterssen was invited to participate in a competition to produce an altarpiece for the newly built church of St Johannes in Oslo.  He was then commissioned to paint a crucifixion scene part of which would be his depiction of the Virgin Mary entitled Mary, Christ’s Mother.  The brown and red tones he used in this portrait were similar to the ones he used in his depiction of Judas Iscariot and was influenced by the brownish palette of the Munich School painters.

In 1879, aged twenty-seven, Eilif Peterssen married Nicoline Gram, the daughter of Major General Johan Georg Boll Gram, the Court Marshal.

Breakfast in Sora by Peder Severin Krøyer (1880)

Peterssen and his wife Nicoline visited Sora, a town in the Italian commune of Lazio, in 1880 together with the Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer, and this was captured in Krøyer’s painting Breakfast in Sora which depicted himself with Nicoline and Eilif Peterssen, and the painter Christian Meyer Ross.

Siesta i et osteria i Sora by Eilif Peterssen (1880)

Peterssen also documented his stay to the mountain village of Sora with his 1880 painting set in an Osteria, a place for serving wine and simple food, Siesta in an Osteria in Sora.

Kunstnerens hustru Nicoline Peterssen, født Gram (The Artist’s Wife Nicoline Peterssen, born Gram) by Eilif Peterssen

Sadly, the Peterssen’s marriage to Nicoline lasted just three years as Nicoline died in 1882, aged thirty-two.  Eilif painted a picture of his wife entitled Kunstnerens hustru Nicoline Peterssen, født Gram (The Artist’s Wife Nicoline Peterssen, born Gram).  I think it is a somewhat unflattering depiction of his wife.

Moonrise over the Dunes by Eilif Peterssen (1883)

A year after his wife’s death, Peterssen went to the Danish artist colony of Skagen in the summer of 1883.  Since the 1870’s, the Northern Danish coastal village of Skagen was a summer meeting place for a group of Scandinavian artists, such as the husband and wife pair, Michael and Anna Ancher, Christian Krohg and Peder Severin Krøyer.  The area around the village attracted the plein air artists because of its scenic delight and the quality of light.  It was often compared to what the Barbizon School of painters found in and around the Forest of Fontainebleau.  One painting completed during his stay at Skagen was his moonscape, Moonrise over the Dunes.

Landscape from Meudon, France (1884)

Petersen travelled around Europe, visiting France and Italy during the next couple of years including visiting Venice in 1885 accompanied by Frits Thaulow.  Whilst visiting Paris in 1884 he completed a beautiful landscape work entitled Landscape from Meudon, France which is a depiction of the Seine riverside by the town of Meudon, a municipality in the southwestern suburbs of Paris.

Portrait of Edvard Grieg by Eilif Peterssen (1891)

Peterssen eventually returned to Norway in 1886 and established himself as a skilful portrait artist.

Portrait of Norwegian Author Henrik Ibsen by Eilif Peterssen (1895)

Two well-known Norwegian personalities featured in portraits by Peterssen, the composer Edvard Grieg and the writer Hendrik Ibsen.

Summer Night by Eilif Peterssen (1886)

It was in 1886 that Peterssen completed his most famous work and one which caught my eye and one that made me research into his life and other works.  The oil on canvas painting was entitled Sommernatt (Summer Night), which is housed in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design – The National Gallery, Oslo, came about when Peterssen along with a group of artist friends, including Norwegian painters Christian Skredsvig, Gerhard Munthe, Kitty Kielland, Harriet Backer, and Erik Werenskiold, some of whom he had met whilst a student in Munich stayed at a farmstead in Fleskum, just outside of Oslo which was owned by painter and writer, Christian Skredsvig, who like Peterssen was a pupil at the Eckersberg drawing and paint school in Christiania and a student at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.  In the history of Norwegian art, the Fleskum artists’ colony was a significant breakthrough of plein-air painting in Norway and heralded the arrival of Neo-Romanticism in Norway.   Peterssen’s Summer Night was the most important to come out from that 1886 Fleskum gathering.  As observers we stare down at the still water of the lake during the last light of a summer’s day.  Strangely, there is little shown of the sky, but the reflection of the crescent moon is a reminder of the clear sky above.  Some have suggested at a hint of symbolism with this painting with the contrast between the sturdy upright tree in the right foreground and the dead birch tree, to the left, which has died and rotting, having fallen lifelessly into the lake.  Is this symbolic of life itself, from sturdy youthful growth to inevitable death?

Nocturne by Eilif Peterssen (1887)

The following year, 1887, Peterssen completed his painting Nocturne, which was the same view of the lake as in his Summer Night painting, but this time he has added some flowers, and a nude.

In 1888, six years after his first wife died, Peterssen re-married.  His second wife was Frederikke Magdalene (“Magda”) Kielland, daughter of Lieutenant Commander Jacob Kielland.

Sunshine, Kalvøya by Eilif Peterssen (1891)

Like many painters in the late nineteenth century Peterssen was aware of the work of the French Impressionists.  One of his works which is often likened to Impressionism style, with its broad-brush strokes used to depict the foliage, was his 1891 work entitled Sunshine Kalvøya, which is one he painted whilst he and his wife were on the island of Kalvøya, which lies off the town of Sandvika, about twenty miles west of Oslo.  This is a depiction of Peterssen’s second wife and so the painting is often referred to as Magda Sewing. We see her absorbed in her needlework surrounded by a lush green landscape, lit up by the full summer sun.  It is a veritable depiction of peace, tranquillity, and contentment

From the Norwegian Archipelago by Eilif Peterssen (1894),

One of Peterssen’s favourite haunts was Sele on the west coast of Norway and the views of the many small islands separated by the branchlike Inner Leads which separate the small islands.  His 1894 painting, From the Norwegian Archipelago, depicts a view of these inner leads.  In the right foreground of this exquisite work we see a woman standing amongst the low vegetation.  She is wearing traditional clothes and is busy with her knitting.  She leans back against a low multi-coloured dry-stone wall.  On the other side of the lead we see several red roofed houses and crofts.  A sailing boat in full-sail goes past, navigating the blue waters.

Kveld, Sele (Gedine on a Hillock) by Eilif Peterssen (1896)

Another painting completed by Peterssen in 1896 was set in Sele.  It is entitled Kveld, Sele (Gedine på haugen) – Evening, Sele (Gedine on a Hillock).  The painting takes in the beautiful colours brought on by the setting of the sun at dusk.  In the foreground we see a young girl, Gedine, a friend of Peterssen sitting on a hillock made of large grey stones.  She is lost in contemplation as she gazes out across the flat landscape towards the sea.

On the Look-out by Eilif Peterssen (1889)

A third painting completed by Peterssen and set on Sele which I really like, is his 1889 work entitled On the Look-out.  In the painting we see five men, four lying on the sand and one seated, all gazing seawards, almost certainly trying to catch a glimpse of the returning fishing fleet.

Old House in Normandy by Eilif Peterssen (1896)

Eilif Peterssen, during his lifetime, made several trips to France and Italy. In 1896 he went to Arques-la-Bataille, a small commune in the Seine-Maritime department of Normandy, a few miles south of Dieppe.  It is a beautiful area where three rivers, Eaulne, Varenne and Béthune converge and in close proximity of the Forest of Arques.  It was during his time here that he completed several landscape paintings including Old House in Normandy.

At the start of the twentieth century Peterssen became interested in Symbolism and was influenced by the colourful work of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Around this time, he completed a number of works focused on French medieval legends. Even during his later life Peterssen continued to travel tirelessly around his own country and even though a few years from his seventieth birthday he was still able to make the long journey to the South of France visiting the small towns of Cagnes and St Paul in Provence.
Hjalmar Eilif Emanuel Peterssen died in Lysaker, a town close to Oslo, on December 29th 1928, aged 76.

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The Skagen Painters, Part 2 – Mr and Mrs Krøyer

Double Portrait of Maria and P.S. Krøyer by Maria and Peter Severin Krøyer (1890)
Double Portrait of Maria and P.S. Krøyer by Maria and Peter Severin Krøyer (1890)

As promised in my last blog featuring the Skagen husband and wife painters, Michael and Anna Ancher, My Daily Art Display today features another married couple who resided in Skagen, Denmark and were leading lights of the Skagen artist commune.   Their names were Marie and Peder Severin Krøyer. 

Marie Martha Mathilde Triepcke was one of three children born to German parents in the Danish capital of Copenhagen in June 1867.   She developed an early love for art and following normal schooling she decided that her future lay as an artist.  For a female to train to become an artist in Denmark in those days was very difficult as women were not allowed to enrol on art courses at the Danish Royal Academy of Art and so she had to study drawing and painting at private schools.  One of these art schools was the Kunstnernes Frie Studieskoler,  a Copenhagen art school which had opened in 1882 as a protest against  the policies and rigid dictates of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts  and by so doing offered an alternative to the Academy’s rigid educational program.  The artist who looked after the new students was the Danish painter, Kristian Zartman.  Another teacher at the art school when Maria attended was the young artist Peter Severin Krøyer.   During her time at these private art establishments she received tuition in model drawing as well as some landscape, still life and portraiture. She and other artists, both male and female, were encouraged to spend time in the countryside and paint en plein air.  In 1887, when she was twenty years of age she made her first trip to Skagen which had by this time become home to  a flourishing artist colony. 

Two years later in December 1888 at the age of twenty-one she left Denmark and travelled alone to Paris to live and further her artistic education.  She studied at a number of studios including those of the French painters, Gustave Courtois and Alfred Roll.  One of the studios she worked in was run by the French painter, Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and it was whilst working in his atelier she became great friends with a fellow co-worker Anna Ancher, who along with her husband Michael, featured in my last blog.  Marie soon became one of the Parisian “Scandinavian artistic-set” and one of these fellow artists was Peter Severin Krøyer whom she had met before in Copenhagen.   Who knows why, but suddenly the relationship between Peter and Marie intensified and they fell in love.  It was a whirlwind romance because in July 1889, within six months of their Paris meeting they were married. 

Peter Severin Krøyer was sixteen years older than Maria.   Although he is often looked upon as a Danish painter, in fact he was born in the Norwegian town of Stavanger in July 1851.   His entry into the world was not without trauma as when he was just a young baby; he was taken from his mother, Ellen, as she was considered unfit to look after her son due to being mentally ill.  Peter went to live in Copenhagen where he was brought up by his maternal aunt and her husband.  At the age of nine, because of his love of drawing, they arranged for him to attend art classes at a private school.  A year later, he was enrolled at the Copenhagen Technical Institute.  From there he attended the Royal Danish Academy of Art and in 1870, at the age of nineteen, he completed his formal studies.  He, like many aspiring artists, began exhibiting his work at the Charlottenborg Palace in Copenhagen and his big breakthrough came in 1874 when the tobacco magnate Heinrich Hirschsprung bought one of his works.  Hirschsprung would become one of Peter Krøyer’s patrons and funded his early European travels.   This connection with Hirschsprung also had a connection with his wife-to-be Marie, as her childhood school friend was Ida Hirschsprung whose uncle was Heinrich and it was through Ida that Marie came into social contact with the Hirschsprungs and their circle of friends including  Peter Krøyen. 

The Duet by Peter Krøyer (1877)
The Duet by Peter Krøyer (1877)

Marie Triepcke actually sat for Krøyen for his 1877 painting entitled The Duet.  She is the woman in red at the left of the painting.

For the next five years Krøyer travelled extensively visiting Spain and Italy as well as spending summer months in Brittany, all the time honing his artistic skills.  During the late 1870’s he would also come across the “new kids on the block” – the young French impressionists such as Monet, Sisley, Degas and Renoir.  However Krøyer was more attuned to the academic painters of the time.   After roaming for those five years he finally returned “home” to Denmark and in late 1881 and in the summer of 1882 he went to Skagen.  He was so enamoured by this area that he bought himself a home there and it was here that he spent his summers before returning to his Copenhagen apartment in the winter months to work in his studio.    Between 1882 and 1904 Krøyer was a leading figure at the newly founded Kunstnernes Frei Studieskoler where he oversaw the life drawing classes which allowed students to draw and paint images of live nudes, an art form which, at the time, was not allowed at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.

Marie Krøyer returned to Skagen with her husband Peter in 1891 and became part of the Skagen artists’ commune.  Once married, her artistic output lessened for she was concentrating on interior design and floral still-life painting which could be incorporated into interior design.  Another reason could have been her feeling artistically inferior in comparison to her husband, or maybe she was just overwhelmed by the burden of motherhood and looking after the house and her husband.  She was quite disheartened for she was quoted as once saying:

“…I sometimes think that the whole effort is in vain, we have far too much to overcome … what significance does it really have if I paint, I shall never, never achieve anything really great … I want to believe in our cause, even if at times it may be terribly difficult…”

    In 1895 she gave birth to a daughter, Vibeke and the family moved to a cottage in Skagen Vesterby where she spent time designing the interior of their home.  Her life with her husband became very challenging due to a decline in his mental health and his frequent incarceration in mental homes.   Her husband’s eyesight also began to gradually fail in 1900.      In 1902 during a journey to Italy Marie met the Swedish composer and violinist Hugo Alfvén.  She and Alfvén became lovers but Krøyer refused to give his wife a divorce.  This changed in 1905 when he found out that his wife was pregnant with Alfvén’s child.  Once divorced, Marie moved from Denmark and went to live with her husband and their baby daughter Margita in Tällberg, Sweden. 

The couple had a new home built there, which became known as Alfvénsgården, and Maria created the interior design and furnishings of the building.  The couple lived together unmarried for seven years before finally marrying in 1912 and their life together lasted twenty-four years until in 1936 they divorced.  Marie retained her beloved Alfvénsgården and remained there until she died in Stockholm in May 1940, a few weeks before her 73rd birthday.  On her death the house reverted to her daughter Margita and when Margita died the house went to Vibeke, Marie’s daughter from her marriage to Peter Krøyer. 

Peter Severin Krøyer died in November 1909, aged 58, at which time his sight had completely failed and he was blind. 

Hip, Hip Hurrah; An Artist's Party on Skagen by Peter Krøyer (1886)
Hip, Hip Hurra by Peter Krøyer (1886)

One of Krøyer’s best known works entitled Hip Hip Hurrah: An Artist’s Party on Skagen came about from his love of photography and his newly bought camera which he purchased in 1885.  It was during a garden party at the house of Michael and Anna Ancher that he took the photograph which captured the celebrating guests.  Delighted with the photograph, Krøyer decided to convert it into a large scale painting and wanted to bring in his models to Ancher’s garden so as to do some preliminary sketches.  Michael Ancher would not go along with the plan and would not countenance the intrusion of the artist and his models into his private garden so Krøyer had the table moved to his garden and set about the work.  It took him three years to complete the “stage-managed” work which in some ways resembles Renoir’s 1881 Luncheon of the Boating Party (see My Daily Art Display Aug 2nd 2011).  The garden party guests are seen celebrating and raising their glasses in a toast.  In the painting we have many of the leading members of the Skagen artist colony.  With her back to us is Martha Johansen who was along with Maria Triepcke and Anna Ancher one of the triumvirate of great female Skagen painter.  Standing on the far side of the table are the Skagen painters Viggo Johansen, the Norwegian Christian Krogh and dressed in brown Krøyer himself.  The man in the white suit is Degn Brøndum, Michale Ancher’s brother in law.  Next to him is Michael Ancher.  On this side of the table we have the Swedish painter Oscar Björck, and the Danish painter Thorvald Niss.  The lady leaning back is Helene Christensen, the local schoolteacher and wife of painter Karl Madsen and closest to us, dressed in white is Anna Ancher and her four year old daughter Helga.  As in many of the Skagen paintings the feature of this work is not the people but the Skagen sunlight which streams through the trees casting shadows on the white tablecloth and shimmers on the bottles and glasses. 

Self Portrait by Marie Krøyer (1889)
Self Portrait by Marie Krøyer (1889)

In contrast to Peter Krøyer’s depictions of his beautiful wife Marie, often seen strolling along the Skagen beaches, Marie’s 1889 Self Portrait is much more sombre and severe.  Half her face is in shadow in this work and it could reflect her state of mind at the time she painted the work. 

Summer Evening on Skagen's Southern Beach by Peter Krøyer (1893)
Summer Evening on Skagen’s Southern Beach by Peter Krøyer (1893)

In contrast to this dark portrait we have Peter Krøyer’s painting entitled Summer Evening on Skagen’s Southern Beach which he completed in 1893.  The idea for this work came to Krøyer during one of the many dinner parties he attended after which the diners would take twilight stroll along the shoreline.  It is an idyllic setting and we see Peter’s wife Marie.  Once again like paintings I featured by Michael Ancher and his wife the colour blue featured a lot in Krøyer’s painting during his stay in Skagen.  This twilight period when day starts to lose out to night was often referred to the “blue hour” which was how they say saw the sky and sea merge into one shade of blue.

Brøndum’s dining room with (left to right) Degn Brøndum (brother of Anna Ancher), Hulda Brøndum (sister of Anna Ancher), Anna Ancher, Marie Krøyer, P.S. Krøyer, and Michael Ancher, ca. 1890s; Image courtesy of Skagens Museum
Brøndum’s dining room with (left to right) Degn Brøndum (brother of Anna Ancher), Hulda Brøndum (sister of Anna Ancher), Anna Ancher, Marie Krøyer, P.S. Krøyer, and Michael Ancher, ca. 1890s; Image courtesy of Skagens Museum

I finish this blog with a photograph of my four Skagen artists, which I have featured in my last two blogs, sitting around a dining table at the Brondum hotel once owned by Anna Ancher’s parents