intimate scale of small museums offers great pleasures especially
when their collections were assembled by one individual.
While the Frick Art Collection here in New York, the Walters Art
Museum in Baltimore and the Wallace Collection in London are superb
examples of museums that represent the impressive connoisseurship
of their founders, there are others not quite as famous such as
the Kimball in Fort Worth and the Timken in San Diego and the
Ordrupgaard in Copenhagen that have an extraordinary consistency
of very high quality.
While one is tempted to look for the founder's "personality"
or artistic temperament in such collections, such determinations
are usually rather elusive. Collectors mature and their tastes
become refined and sometimes change. What unites many of these
collections is that they usually have a good percentage of "connoisseur"
paintings rather than the run-of-the-mill, formulaic masterpieces,
although museums need those too, of course.
The exhibition of "The Age of Impressionism: European Paintings
from Ordrupaard, Copenhagen" is particularly rich in such
"connoisseur" works that will delight and surprise visitors
accustomed to the conventional "big names."
show not only has very splendid and intriguing works by such masters
as Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Edgar Degas (1834-1917), but very
impressive works by Narciss Diaz de Pena (1807-1876), Charles-François
Daubigny (1817-1878), Honoré Daumier (1808-1879), Gustave
Courbet (1819-1877), Edouard Manet (1832-1883), Berthe Morisot
(1841-1895), Alfred Sisley (1839-1899), Paul Cézanne (1839-1906),
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Armand
Guillaumin (1841-1927), Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and as well
as some fine works by some Danish masters such as Vilhelm Hammershøi
(1864-1916), J. Th. Lundbye (1818-1848), L. A. Ring (1854-1933),
P.C. Skovgaard (1817-1875) and Christian Købke (1810-1848).
collection was formed by Danish insurance magnate Wilhelm Hansen
(1868-1936) and the collection and the
country house from which it derives its name were bequeathed to
the Danish State upon the death of Hansen's wife, Henny, in 1951.
Philippe de Montebello, Director of The Metropolitan
Museum of Art, remarked that "It is a privilege to present
these superb paintings from the Ordrupgaard Collection to American
audiences, who may be unaware that one of the most representative
collections of 19th century French and Danish paintings exists
on the outskirts of Copenhagen." "Each splendid picture
in the exhibition - be it a brilliant pastel by Degas, a Parisian
streetscape by [Camille] Pissarro [1830-1903], or a luminous view
of Rome by [C. K.] Eckersberg [1783-1853] - represents these artists
at their highest level of accomplishment. The works also reveal
Wilhelm Hansen's enduring passion for the finest painting of both
his fellow Danes and the French masters who were radically altering
Western art during his own lifetime."
"The Ordrupgaard exhibition is at the
Metropolitan at a particularly auspicious time, as it coincides
with another special exhibition in our galleries, 'Gauguin in
New York Collections: The Lure of the Exotic.' The eight exceptional
Gauguins in the Ordrupgaard Collection brings the total number
of works by the artist to nearly 130 at the Metropolitan this
summer," the director noted.
The other exhibition includes not only paintings, but also drawings,
watercolors, woodcuts, and sculptures and is interesting but has
few masterworks and Gauguin does not come off as well as he should
so the Ordrupgaard Gauguins fell the gap nobly.
the finest work in the 84 paintings exhibited from the Ordrupgaard
collection is "Your Turn Will Come, My Beauty. The Blue Tree
Trunks, Arles, 1888," shown at the top of this article, a
sensational landscape that Gauguin painted in 1888 during his
stay in Arles with Vincent Van Gogh.
Gauguin is famous for his Tahitian scenes but his early landscapes
are perhaps his finest works as they are very original and devoid
of the religious and cultural baggage of the later Tahitian paintings.
The "Blue Tree Trunks" predates the wild color schemes
of the Fauves, has an incredibly rich palette that calls to mind
the dazzling concoctions of Gustave Klimt, and is a very abstract
work that ranks with Monet's "Poplar" series as a precursor
of much later abstraction.
It has an electric energy and intensity only rivaled by Van Gogh
This painting and another one by Gauguin, according to the catalogue,
which the museum sells for only $29.95, "began to peel because
it was painted on unprimed sackcloth." "Gauguin felt
that both became more beautiful after he repaired them and them
smoothed them with an iron," it added.
at Pont-Aven" is another fine, albeit more conventional,
landscape by Gauguin. "The fine, divided brushstrokes in
this painting," the catalogue entry observed, "reveal
Gauguin's early interest in Impressionism. A close look reveals
that the paint was applied in a systematic, vertical manner that
suggests an awareness of Pointilism. It should be remembered,
however, that Gauguin strongly dissociated himself from Pointilism,
derogatorily describing it as ripipoint."
collection of Gauguins is formidable. "The Little One is
Dreaming, Edude," is a superb 1881 composition that was one
of the artist's submissions to the seventh Impressionist Exhibition
in 1882. The catalogue describes it as "one of Gauguin's
most important early paintings" and states that the child
is his four-year-old daughter Aline. The girl lines in her wrought-iron
bed with her head facing away from the viewer and behind the dark
wainscoted walls are papered with a Cézanne-inspired motif
of flying birds. "The ethereal subject of the wallpaper can
also be read," the catalogue entry continued, "as a
representation of a fantasy world of dreams and imagination, ....the
dream-like character is further enhanced by the row of musical
notes at the upper right that faintly echo the lullaby that initiated
the child's sleep.....Only the puppet on the bedpost, with its
frontal pose and striking vermilion color, clashes with the dream-like
sensation. The puppet evokes the child's waking hours and serves
as the observer's entry point into the composition. The puppet's
anecdotal presence draws the dream to the center of attention.
The birds and notes on the wall provide the picture with a strange
double nature: the observer's thoughts and the child's, reality
and dream....The picture is a play on the affinities between painting,
music, and dreaming - between the senses and the imagination.
This concept, initially launched by Delacroix and Baudelaire,
was referred to as correspondances. Both in this sense
and compositionally, the picture anticipates a work from Gauguin's
"Portrait of a Young Woman" (1896) was executed during
the artist's second stay in Tahiti and was a rare commission that
was ordered by his neighbor, Auguste Goupil, a lawyer, journalist
and politician. "With her reserved mien and covered fully
by her brown robe mission," the catalogue commented,
"she is an antithesis to the skimpily clad Polynesian women
who were the painter's other models at the time. While the Polynesian
women often appear young, the nine-year-old European girl is depicted
with a mature, lifeless expression. n the context of Gauguin's
work, this could be read as a comment on the black of spirit in
European civilization. The china-like mask of the face - whose
almost caricatured ashenness is interrupted by the blood-red slit
of the mouth - has the same lack of expression as the figures
of some of Gauguin's late Brittany pictures..."
There are many wonderful works by Edgar Degas
in the collection. Perhaps the most beautiful is "Woman Seated
on a Balcony, New Orleans (Probably Mathilde Bell, née
Musson)," a 64-by-76-centimeter pastel on paper mounted on
canvas that was executed 1872-5 when the artist was in New Orleans
visiting relatives. The woman's face is exquisitely done and she
looks directly at the viewer with an affectionate and intriguing
intelligence. Much of the asymmetrical composition is sketchy
but its seemingly unfinished state only intensifies our interest
in this beautiful woman.
Another similar Degas masterpiece is "Yard
of a House (New Orleans, Study)," a 60-by-73.5-centimeter
oil on canvas that was executed in 1873.
It shoew the back of the house on the Esplanade
whose balcony is shown in "Woman
Seated on a Balcony, New Orleans (Probably Mathilde Bell, née
Musson)," and the children here are his relatives. Like the
other painted, this one also is quite sketchy and the catalogue
entry notes that "the unfinished look of the painting mirrors
the subject matter: children in the process of growing up and,
in a sense, becoming 'finished' human beings."
These two works are quite magnificent.
They are not the familiar ballerinas that Degas would paint so
often, but very interesting compositions that are very masterful.
Ordrupgaard does have two exceptionally beautiful ballerina pastels
by Degas as well as a great pastel of a woman combing her hair
and another of a chanteuse, as well as a gouache study for "The
Bellelli Family," but the New Orleans pictures are real connoisseur
works that greatly expand our admiration for this marvelous artist.
is the most famous Impressionist and the Ordrupgaard collection
has several that are very strong such as "Waterloo Bridge,"
a 1903 oil on canvas, 65.5 by 100.5 centimeters, and "Seascape,
Le Havre, a 1866 oil on canvas, 43 by 59.5 centimeters. Both works
have an uncharacteristically grayish palette, but both are notable
for their brushwork. The former is one of 42 canvases Monet executed
of the London bridge and the catalogue notes that Monet loved
the city's fog "because it was a vehicle for what he called
the enveloppe, the atmospheric light that envelops everything,"
adding that Monet refused to exhibit the series individually and
that this work is "one of the less foggy versions that tend
to be clearer in the foreground." In "Seascape, Le Havre,"
the catalogue argues that "While Whistler's concentration
on the atmosphere and Courbet's focus on the surging power of
the waves may well have been their source of inspiration, Monet
departs from both artists in his preoccupation with the way brushwork,
color, and light can be manipulated to create a distinct mood....In
contrast to Courbet, who seems to equate the mass of the water
with the thickness of his paint, Monet dissolves the materiality
of his paint and replaces it with an almost watercolor-like dilution,
suggesting something unstable and fluid. The sea is not interpreted
as a weighty mass, but as a vibrant material surface....This picture
anticipates Monet's mature style and introduces the next phase
in his career. It is probably for this reason that he chose to
include it in his important joint retrospective exhibition with
Rodin in 1889."
Ordrupgaard Monet, "The Cliffs near Sainte-Adresse, Overcast,"
an 1881-2 oil on canvas, 60 by 72 centimeters, is also somber
in tone but even freer in its brushwork. "The picture,"
according to the catalogue, "has been quickly painted with
relatively few strokes, and the bare, primed canvas is visible
throughout the surface...Monet almost certainly worked on the
picture in a single session....Nothing has been done to disguise
the average, slightly boring, chilly, gray, late afternoon day.
The monotony of the subject is somewhat mitigated by the color
scheme, where black and red contrast with each other, and is dispelled
altogether by Monet's lively brushwork." Despite its darkish
tones, this is a very vibrant work.
While many collectors would opt for the artist's
most colorful and perhaps happier works, these three again appeal
to a more sophisticated taste that recognizes that artists have
many moods and change as they mature.
collection is by no means bereft of brilliantly colored Impressionists
paintings and in fact has several magnificent works that show
Alfred Sisley and Camille Pissarro at their very best. "Quai
de Bercy, Paris," shown above, is a very, very strong and
excellent work by Armand Guillaumin. An oil on canvas that measures
60 by 92 centimeters, it was executed in 1885. Guillaumin had
participated in the 1863 Salon des Refusés and with Paul
Cézanne and Camille Pissarro was part of a group that was
influenced by Manet and led to the first Impressionist Exhibition
of 1874. The catalogue notes, however, that Guillaumin did not
receive much notice until 1880, suggesting that his subject matter
of urban areas lacking historical, cultural and picturesque qualities
was "not terribly engaging." "The dominant position
of the crane symbolizes the industrialization of the landscape,"
the catalogue observed, added that "if the structure of the
picture has a classical calm, its color scheme is peculiarly vibrant."
The catalogue also writes that Vincent Van Gogh would become "particularly
fascinated and inspired by Guillaumin's technique and choice of
also has two excellent paintings by Berthe Morisot and several
One of the
greatest surprises of the Ordrupgaard collection if Édouard
Manet's "Woman with a Jug, Portrait of Mme. Manet Holding
a Ewer." This 1858-60 oil on canvas, which measures 61 by
54.5 centimeters, could easily be mistaken for a masterpiece by
Pontormo, or perhaps Correggio, or even Raphael. Manet, of course,
was deeply influenced by the Old Masters and his famous "Le
Déjeuner sur l'herbe," painted a few years after this
work, recalls a landscape by Giorgione. In his subject matter
here, Manet may have been recalling a painting by Titian.
provides the following commentary"
investigation has revealed traces of an underlying composition:
there was once a balustrade behind the woman, level with her shoulders.
This discovery indicates that the picture was originally part
of a large Salon work in the Renaissance spirit, a so-called grand
machine, which had been subsequently cut down. The motif of
the woman pouring water into a bowl has a generic-like quality
but the picture lacks obvious narrative content. The woman is
placed in front of a green wall with an opening that reveals a
landscape stretching bac to faraway mountains. The light clothing
might suggest a morning toilette, but this reading is contradicted
by the woman's jewelry. The ewer and bowl have not been fully
painted and are conspicuous in their strangely skewed planes.
Similarly there is a striking contrast between the peferctily
modeled left hand that holds the jug and the right hand, which
is only sketchily suggested. The model is Suzanne Leenhoff, who
later became Manet's wife. She was of Dutch origin, but lived
in Paris, where she made her living as a music teacher."
marvelous about this work is that it synthesizes many Italian
Renaissance influences and produces a work that is as beautiful
as the best of Bellini and Cima and the others mentioned above
but which is more intimate but at the same time monumental. The
"unfinished" right hand is, of course, puzzling and
the landscape in the window is very sketchy in comparison with
the fineness of the portrait, but sometimes artists are intentional
Courbet was disenchanted with much of the academic subject matter
that dealt with mythology, history and religion and his art is
about realism. The catalogue notes that this work can be read
as an allegory of love and that the two deer are painted in a
different style from the landscape, making it almost surreal.
It is a stunning painting.
has two other good Courbets including one coastal scene, but another
surprise is a very large seascape by Charles-François Daubigny
that many visitors to the exhibition may well mistake at first
glance for a major Courbet. Entitled "Seascape (Overcast),"
the 83.5-by-147-centimeter oil on canvas was executed in 1874.
work that some might initially mistake for a Courbet is "Pack
of Hounds in the Forest of Fontainebleau," an 1848 oil on
canvas, 103 by 82 centimeters, by Narcisse Diaz de la Pena. The
impressive "work won first prize at the Salon of 1848
its many Gauguins, the exhibition does not contain any works by
Vincent van Gogh, but it does have a good bathers painting by
Paul Cézanne, shown above, "Women bathing." Paul
Cézanne did many pictures of nude women bathing during
his career and the Ordrupgaard collection has a good example that
the catalogue notes was "made in the context of other pictures,
photographs, and reproductions of nude figures form the Musée
du Louvre and in Cézanne's early drawings and sketches
of work by Delacroix, Michelangelo, Puget and Rubens." "This
frieze-like composition - vivid as it is in painterly terms -
is just as artificial, construced, and conceptual as his strange
early figure paintings. ...In Cézanne's work the spiritual,
in the Symbolist sense, has no place, just as his Utopian vision
includes neither concrete nor imagined physical reality. His bathers
are a far cry from the nymphs and carefree nude figures found
in the pictures of Auguste Renoir and Henri Matisse. Cézanne's
bathers are physically present but paradocially dispasionate and
inactive. It is a concept of joie de vivre that lacks both
joie and vivre."
exhibition also includes a stunning though small selection of
masterworks by some 19th Century Danish painters.
he was familiar with French Impressionism, Vilhelm Hammerchøi
had a different temperament, one that is cool and refined and
clearly inspired by the luminous works of Vermeer. "Young
Woman Sewing, The Artist's Sister Anna Hammerchøi,"
shown above, was actually controversial when it was submitted
to the 1888 Charlottenborg Exhibition where it was rejected and
subsequently included in a group exhibition of refused paintings.
The next year, however, it was awarded a bronze medal at the Exposition
Universelle in Paris! It is a sensational and very lovely painting.
would become fascinated with interiors and the study of light
and "Dust Motes Dancing in Sunlight, Interior from the Artist's
Home, Strandgade 30," a 1900 oil on canvas, 70 by 59 centimeters,
is a fantastic study of his home in Copenhagen. Visitors to this
exhibition are certain to rank Hammerchøi high on their
list of masters. In 1998, the Ordrupgaard Collection organized
a Hammerchøi retrospective exhibition that traveled to
the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Solomon R. Guggenheim
Museum in New York.
has its earlier Golden Age of landscape and such works as "Landscape,
Serup Vang," by J. Th. Lundbye are sure to come as something
of a shock to lovers of America's Hudson River School. This large,
arcadian style is rendered with a fabulous quality of light and
superb technique. It is idyllic and very beautiful.
Hansen manager two important Danish insurance companies, Hafnia
and Dansk Folkeforsikringanstalt and was a co-founder of the French
national insurance company, La Populaire. He was committed to
Volapük. a world language that would be superceded eventually
by Esperanto. He and his wife initially collected Danish painters
but as he began to spend time in Paris beginning in 1902 he dreamed
of assembling a dozen works by the finest 19th century artists.
He made his first purchases of French paintings in 1916. He received
advice from critic Théodore Duret but World War I made
purchases difficult. After the war, Hansen joined forces with
Herman Heilbuth and the art dealers Winkel and Mangussen to form
a consortium to buy and sell art to obtain good and outstanding
art for Scandinavia. They bought 233 works form the Montaignac
collection and the Sarlin collection and the George Viau collection
as well as acquiring works from such dealers as Durand-Ruel, Tempelaere
and Vollard, but were unsuccessful in getting the collection of
Auguste Pellerin, which contained about 70 Cézannes. They
also got 28 paintings from the collectionof Alphonse Kann. Hansen
opened his collection of 156 French works to the public in 1918,
but four years later the collapse of the Landmandsbanken forced
him to sell pictues to pay off debts. He offered them to Denmark
for just one million kroner, but the government did not act. Dr.
Albert Barnes of Merion, Pa., was also approached but in the end
most of the paintings were sold to Kojiro Matsukata of Tokyo and
Oskar Reinhardt of Winterthur, Switzerland. Matsukata's pictures
are now in the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. About
half of Hansen's collection was sold for a total of about 1.6
million francs. Among the works sold were seven Cézannes,
four Gauguins, several Monet's including an example from the Rouen
series, six Manets, seven Sisleys, and a Van Gogh portrait of
Pere Tanguy that went to the Ny Carlsberg Foundaton in Copenhagen.
Hansen kept on collecting....