At the weekend I saw an exhibition of the work of the Danish painter Christen Købke (1810 - 1848) at the National Gallery in London. I'm embarrased to say that I knew nothing about Købke before I went, but having seen the exhibition - which totally gripped me - I am now a big fan. Købke's paintings are absolutely brilliant for a number of reasons. His technical skill and execution is superb, especially where light is concerned (the photos in this post really do not do his pictures justice at all). I love his handling of colour, with the consistently restrained, muted palettes, and moreover the calm, slightly banal, slightly melancholy, slightly enigmatic feeling which he conjures up.
Realist painting can often end up looking quite naff, but Købke avoids this fate, constantly achieving a certain low-key stylishness in his work. I have quite a fascination with banality, stillness, and the ordinary, and Købke's paintings pick up these elements, but in a very beautiful, accomplished way. I felt very calm and almost at peace wandering around the exhibition, and it reminded me a bit of the later Danish painter, Vilhelm Hammershøi (whose work I also love), who created a similar feeling. There is something quite fascinating about very talented painters who direct their efforts towards empty rooms (in Hammershøi's case), or fairly mundane settings near where they live, as Købke did. It is, I think, a very powerful statement (intentional or otherwise), and it is quite moving. Even when painting the magnificant Frederiksborg Castle, Købke adds a certain melancholic, almost existential, edge, by focusing in his most famous picture of the castle not on the building itself, but on the vast, empty expanse of sky above.
Købke belonged to the Golden Age of Danish Painting (which roughly covered the 1800 - 1850 period), although he died aged 37 and never achieved great recognition in his life. Even now his work is relatively little known, which is a great shame considering what a talented and interesting artist he was.
Autumn Morning on Lake Sortedam, 1838
View of the Lime Kiln towards Copenhagen, 1836.
The exhibition ended on Sunday (apologies for not blogging earlier - I only just found out about it in time myself); this is the accompanying book which I bought: