National Portrait Gallery Presents Portraits of the World: Denmark

By Editorial Team on December 10, 2019

Fri, 13 December 2019 - Mon, 12 October 2020

Michael Ancher, “Kuntsdommere” (Art Judges), 1906, oil on canvas, 156.2 x 222.9 cm
The Danish Museum of National History, Frederiksborg Castle, Hillerød, Denmark
Opening: Friday, December 13, 2019

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery will present “Portraits of the World: Denmark,” the next installment in the museum’s international series highlighting the global context of American portraiture. The new exhibition will feature “Kuntsdommere” (Art Judges), Michael Ancher’s monumental 1906 group portrait of his colleagues in a Danish artists’ colony. On loan from The Danish Museum of National History in Hillerød, Denmark, the painting will be placed in dialogue with works from the Portrait Gallery’s collection that trace the development of American modernism in artists’ communities in New York City during the first half of the 20th century. The works on view will testify to the ways community, friendship and rivalry fueled artistic progress. This exhibition celebrates the latest collaboration between the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and a national portrait gallery abroad. “Portraits of the World: Denmark” will be on view from Dec. 13 through Oct. 12, 2020.

One of Denmark’s best-known artists, Ancher was a pivotal figure in the so-called Modern Breakthrough that saw Danish artists and writers favor realistic depictions of contemporary life over the tradition of idealized subject matter. In pursuit of greater authenticity, Ancher and his fellow artists abandoned urban life for the remote fishing village of Skagen in northern Denmark. They found compelling subjects among the bleak landscapes and hardships endured by local people, often depicting laborers and scenes of everyday life on a heroic scale. For “Kunstdommere,” Ancher turned to his own circle for inspiration. The painting depicts his colleagues hard at work: the dramatist Holger Drachmann and artists Peder Severin Krøyer, Laurits Tuxen and Jens Ferdinand Willumsen are critiquing an out-of-view portrait in Krøyer’s studio. The artists of Skagen lived and worked in close proximity. As friends and rivals, collaborators and competitors, they worked with and against each other, ultimately ushering in the new era of Danish art known as the Modern Breakthrough.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact the Skagen artists’ colony had on the trajectory of Danish art, and Ancher’s ambitious work strives to depict that community in action,” said Robyn Asleson, curator of prints and drawings, at the National Portrait Gallery. “This exhibition will give audiences the chance to compare and contrast that remote artists’ colony on the northern edge of Denmark, which propelled art in a modern direction with artistic communities in New York City that accelerated the progress of American art from realism to abstraction.”

A complementary display of works from the National Portrait Gallery’s permanent collection will highlight the proliferation of artists’ communities in New York City during the first half of the 20th century, which likewise catalyzed the development of modern art in the United States. The exhibition will include works by Peggy Bacon, George Biddle, Marius de Zaya, Mabel Dwight, Marion D. Freeman, Red Grooms, Hans Namuth, Francis Picabia, John Sloan and Bill Witt. In the spirit of Ancher’s painting, “Kunstdommere” will be accompanied by works featuring artists as subjects, including group portraits of Elaine and Willem de Kooning and the trio of Barnett Newman, Jackson Pollock and Tony Smith.

The exhibition is the third iteration in the museum’s “Portraits of the World” series, which previously highlighted works from Switzerland (2017–2018) and Korea (2018–2019).

The National Portrait Gallery is located at 8th St NW & F St NW.