Friday, 26 April 2019

Statens Museum For Kunst

To the largest and most impressive of Copenhagen's museums (perhaps even more so than Thorvaldsens here, for my money at least) - The Statens Museum For Kunst (SMK). Everything was perfect here in terms of quality artworks - antique to modern, exhibition spaces, and professional staff. The original building was constructed in 1896, and is another envisioned and constructed by architect Vilhelm Dahlerup (also responsible for the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek here), with a modern glass extension to the rear. The collection was begun with Christian II's extensive collection of European paintings and sculptures, and has been added to significantly since. There really was so much to see here, but below will be some of the things I particularly liked.

The atrium at the entrance of SMK is a vast, light airy space with an impressive cantilevered staircase. Entry ticket purchased, I went first into the retrospective exhibition of work by Sonja Ferlov Mancoba (1911-1984) which was full of exciting bone-like structural sculptures slightly reminiscent of some of Henry Moore's output, and textural collages which aroused my interest. Mancoba is a Danish artist who is new to me, and whose work I really enjoyed discovering here, so it was pleasure to make her acquaintance. Mancoba visited Paris several times during her career before settling there permanently, and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Giacometti, Miró and Arp. You may be able perhaps detect the influences of them in several of her pieces, and also that of Mexican art in some of her mask-like constructions featured here.

To the rear of the original building is the space where the old building smoothly collides with the modern sheet glass extension. This long, thin, modern intersection is an area called "Sculpture Street" featuring funnily enough examples of classical and modern sculpture, and this gorgeous cluster of sculptural Isamu Noguchi lamps. The vast panels of sheet glass at the rear of the building give great views out onto the landscape of Østre Anlæg park in which the museum is set.

Karl Isakson - Female Nude, 1918-20

The modern extension houses the collection of twentieth century and contemporary art with mixed results. I really enjoyed the collection of Danish/Nordic Impressionism/post-Impressionism embodied in pieces like that above, and the piece below by Edvard Munch.

Edvard Munch - Death Struggle, 1915

Less impressive in my eyes was much of the contemporary art, which seemed to be big and brash but had little to say for itself save for works like this disturbing installation piece by art duo Elmgreen and Dragset - Please, Keep Quiet (2003). It was a room created to look just like a hospital ward with life-like male patients in various states of ill-health on their sick beds. It was really eerie psychologically, as you were made to feel really uncomfortable, like a voyeur intruding on these male  "patients" robbed of their virility and emasculated of their manhood in a delicate, vulnerable state of fragility. As a piece of manipulative and emotive art it was great.

Elmgreen and Dragset - Please, Keep Quiet, 2003

 Tal R - Andy, 2012

This piece above was by Danish artist Tal R whose work was last seen by me in London a couple of weeks before my trip to Copenhagen at the Victoria Miro show of Danish artists here. 

Gillian Wearing - A Real Danish Family, 2017

Superflex - Foreigners, Please Don't Leave Us Alone With The Danes!, 2002

Tomas Saraceno - Biosphere, 2009

After seeing the contemporary collection I crossed back into the main body of the museum and walked through an exhaustive, and comprehensive collection of artists and movements from the art historical timeline seeing some interesting pieces by the likes of  Rembrandt etc. There were many beautifully painted academic-style pieces, and some like the painting below which were really strange.

Cornelis Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem - The Fall of the Titans, 1596-98

Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts  - 'Trompe l'oeil. Board Partition with Letter Rack and Music Book', 1668. ⁣⁣

Nicolai Abraham Abildgaard - The Wounded Philoctetes, 1775

Carl Bloch - In a Roman Osteria, 1866

Peder Severin Krøyer - Boys Bathing in Skagen Summer Evening, 1899

As good as some of the paintings in these other rooms were I was really stopped in my tracks and engaged by SMK's collection of French Art. Their stunning collection of Matisse's paintings were jaw-dropping and well worth the entrance fee alone. Feast your eyes...

Henri Matisse - Landscape near Collioure, Study for "The Joy of Life" 1905

Henri Matisse - Self Portrait in a Striped Shirt, 1906

Henri Matisse - Portrait of Madam Matisse, The Green Line, 1905

Henri Matisse - The Goldfish, 1912

 Henri Matisse - The Green Blouse, 1936

Henri Matisse - Le Luxe II, 1907-8

Henri Matisse - Nude With a White Scarf, 1909

Henri Matisse - Odalisque With a Screen, 1923

Henri Matisse - Odalisque, 1923

Henri Matisse - Interior With a Violin, 1918

I think you get the idea. And it didn't stop there...

Pablo Picasso - Embrace, 1905

Pablo Picasso - Still Life With Door, Guitar and Bottles, 1916

Henri Laurens - Musical Instruments on a Table, 1919

Georges Braque - Still Life On a Table, 1928

Amedeo Modigliani - Alice, 1918

Raoul Dufy - Interior With a Hindu Girl, 1930

André Derain - Woman in a Chemise, 1906

Kees van Dongen - Portait of a Lady, 1911

Fernand Léger - Woman With a Vase, 1924

André Derain - Harlequin, 1923

Chaim Soutine - The Gipsy, 1926

Christen Købke - Self-Portrait, c1833

Stunned by the beauties in SMK's French art collection I then moved into the Danish collection. I'd seen the work of Christen Købke at the Glyptotek, and absolutely admire the way in which he handles paint and depicts the sensation of light in his work which always seems so lucid and crisp. The fresh-faced, ruddy complexions of his subjects is always so convincingly rendered. The Danes are quite rightly very proud of him.

Christen Købke - Portrait of the Naval Lieutenant D. Christen Schifter Feilberg

Christen Købke - Portrait of the Artist’s Sister, Cecilie Margrethe Petersen, 1835

Christen Købke - View of the Bay near the Copenhagen Limekiln Looking North. 
A Quiet Summer Afternoon, 1837

Christen Købke - Portrait of the Artist's Cousin, Michael Christian Petersen

As good as Købke and others from the Golden Age of Danish art are, my absolute favourite Danish painter is currently Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916). Like many, I was first introduced to Hammershøi's work via Michael Palin's 2008 documentary - Michael Palin and the Mystery of Hammershøi, which you can still view on Youtube. The collection at SMK was my first encounter with his work face to face, as I didn't get to see his 2008 London exhibition - The Poetry of Silence at the Royal Academy, and I was not disappointed. The room here full of his work was amazing. His ability to evoke an atmosphere of stillness, and calm, with a muted colour palette and close tonal harmonies was just wonderful and mysterious.Like Vermeer before him he has that ability to evoke a certain mood. This suite of paintings were just contemplative and beautiful. 

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Self Portrait, 1911

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Amalienborg Palace Square, 1896

Vilhelm Hammershøi - The Marble Bridge at Christiansborg, 1890-92

Vilhelm Hammershøi - A Room in the Artist's Home Strandgade, with the Artist's Wife, 1902

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Evening in the Drawing Room: The Artist's Mother and Wife, 1891
Vilhelm Hammershøi - Figure of a Woman, 1888

Vilhelm Hammershøi - The Buildings of the Asiatic Company, seen from St. Annæ Street, København, 1902

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Ida With Teacup, 1907

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Portrait of Ida Ilsted, 1890

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Seated Female Nude, 1889

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Standing Female Nude, 1909-10

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Artemis, 1893-94

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Portraits

After a good, contemplative latte in the museum cafe to fully absorb the impact of the Hammershøi's, lying in wait in the atrium of SMK, like pieces of discarded industrial machinery, are these large copper pieces by artist Danh Vo. Vo has an interesting backstory - his family fled war-torn Vietnam in 1979 in a boat and were picked up by a Danish freighter and he was then raised in Copenhagen. These pieces are from his ambitious work We The People (2010-2013) in which he commissioned a full scale copper replica in fragments of Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi’s iconic Liberty Enlightening the World - The Statue of Liberty - which rather than assemble as one statue he has chosen to disperse to various collections and sites around the world. I like the abstract nature of the various fragments which work as sculptures in their own right, and the fact that they have been dispersed across the globe. I saw some wonderful art here and would highly recommend a visit to SMK to any art lover seeking a comprehensive art experience whilst in Copenhagen.

Statens Museum For Kunst
Sølvgade 48