Woman in Front of a Mirror by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg

Woman in Front of a Mirror by Christoffer Eckersberg (1841)

Before I embarked on My Daily Art Display blog, I could reel off a list of my favourite artists, all of who would be familiar names to you,  but now, over the last six months I have added many new artists and paintings to my ever-growing favourite list.  I think I have said this before in a previous preamble but one of the joys of the blog for me is to discover artists and their paintings which have previously been unknown to me.  Today I want to look at a painting from a Danish artist who was to become one of his country’s  greatest painters  and was sometimes referred to as The Father of Danish Painting. 

My featured artist today is Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg who was born in 1783 in Bläkroga, a small Danish town in southern Jutland.  His lived with his mother,  Ingeborg Nielsdatter and his father, Henrik who was a carpenter and house painter.  Christoffer studied as a painter during his youth under Jes Jessen the portraitist and at the age of seventeen became an apprentice to the painter, Josiah Jensen.

His one aim during his training was to one day be accepted into the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen, the leading artistic establishment of Denmark, which was inaugurated in 1754.  Throughout his early training he had put together a portfolio of his work and that along with some money given to him by local people he set off in 1803 for Copenhagen.  The Academy was impressed by his work, so much so that he was accepted into the Academy without having to pay a fee.  Here he studied neoclassical and history painting under Nicolai Abildgaard.  His relationship with Abildgaard was fraught and the two often clashed and it was probably this which accounted for the fact he never achieved the ultimate Academic honour, the Gold Medal, until 1809, after the death of his tutor, Abildgaard.   Along with the Gold Medal along  came a travel stipend but such money was  held back until 1812.

In 1810 he somewhat reluctantly married Christine Rebecca Hyssing, who had borne him a son, Erling, in 1808 and who Christoffer wanted to legitimise.  During his artistic roaming through Europe he lived in Paris in 1811 and 1812 and studied under the great neoclassicist painter Jaques-Louis David and the work he undertook then improved his expertise in painting the human form. The following year he left France and visited Florence and Rome where he stayed until 1816.  During his time in Italy he learnt the skills as a history painter and a landscape artist.  As we may have guessed, the reason for marrying his wife just to legitimise their child is not the best basis for a sound marriage and this coupled with his prolonged journeys abroad without his family led to the inevitable – the breakdown of his marriage to Christina and their divorce was finalised in 1816 with him still out the country.

Christoffer returned to Copenhagen in 1816 at a time when Denmark was still reeling from defeat in the Napoleonic Wars but this juncture in the country’s history was looked upon as a time of rejuvenation and a cultural revival and it was believed to be the beginning of the Golden Age of Danish art.   In 1817 he was admitted as a member of the Royal Academy and was elected a professor of the establishment the following year, a position he held until his death.  In 1817 he married Elisabeth Juel, who was the daughter of Jens Juel, a portrait painter and one of his fellow professors at the Academy.    During their ten year marriage they had four children.  Elisabeth Juel died in 1827 and in 1828 Christoffer Eckersberg married her sister, Susanne and the couple had several children.  Christoffer became Director of the Academy from 1827 to 1829.

As Christoffer aged his eyesight deteriorated and he was forced to give up his painting.  In 1853, he was struck down by the great cholera epidemic which swept through the country and died in Copenhagen aged 70,.  He will always be remembered as the most influential teacher in the history of Danish art and for this he will always be known as the “father of Danish painting”.

My Daily Art Display for today is Eckerberg’s  Morgentoilette or sometimes known as  Woman in Front of a Mirror which he painted in 1841.  It was while he was professor at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen that he conducted classes in life drawing and painting from the nude model, male and female.  This painting reminds me of one I saw the other day by Frederic Leighton entitled Psamathe, which I will feature later in the week.  This painting by Eckersberg, to me, emphasises the argument that a female body partly clothed  is far more erotic and sensuous in comparison to complete nudity, such as we see in Egon Schiele’s paintings.  The woman has her back to us and we see in the mirror the reflection of her face and her upper chest, just revealing a small amount of cleavage.   She stands before us with a towel slung loosely around her waist but letting us view the swell of her hips and the upper curvature of her buttocks.  Her body is like polished marble.  Our eyes move upwards from the towel and we observe the slimness of her waist and the well defined muscles of her back.  Her hair, which is tied back in a bob, is held by her right hand.  This upward positioning of her right arm allows us to look upon the sensuous curve of her shoulders and neck.  In the mirror we can just catch a glimpse of her face which  appears flushed.  Maybe she is embarrassed by the pose and the gaze of the artist or maybe it is because she realises that in times to come we will be staring at her beauty.