The Skagen painters and the Venice Biennale

Once the Skagen painters were contemporary, and in the early years of the Biennale they exhibited frequently in Venice.

Well now – I’m sitting in front of the exhibition building under the green trees with a carafe of delightful white wine in front of me.
Peder Severin Krøyer in a letter to Emil Hannover, May 18th, 1909

In spring 1909, Peder Severin Krøyer had all reasons to be happy, celebrate end enjoy a glass of white wine outside the Palazzo dell’Esposizione in the Giardini. The Venice Biennale that year centred on the presentation of five European painters: Albert Besnard, Anders Zorn, Franz von Stuck, Tito Ettore – and Krøyer himself, who was represented with 43 artworks.

Krøyer’s ‘Midsummer Eve bonfire on Skagen’s beach’ in the Biennale catalogue from 1909. The work was Krøyer’s large major group portrait and is on display in the Plesner galleries at Skagens Museum.

The exhibition of Krøyer’s work at the Biennale was the culmination of a long and splendid career, which was however soon to end. In November later that year, Krøyer died in Skagen. At that point he had been part of the Biennale as a commissioner since its first run in 1895.

In the early editions of the Biennale, the Skagen painters and artists affiliated with the artists’ colony in Skagen were well represented. In 1895, the audience in Venice could see works by Scandinavian artists as Michael Ancher, Oscar Björck, Niels Pedersen Mols, Thorvald Niss, Julius Paulsen, Eilif Petersen, Christian Skredsvig, Frits Thaulow, Laurits Tuxen and Krøyer himself.

Canvasses with scenes from the beaches of Skagen and the weathered fishermen was during these early years a recurring part of Denmark’s official presentation in Venice.

Peder Severin Krøyer: ‘Holger Drachmann’. 1895. Krøyer’s portrait of the poet and painter Holger Drachmann was commissioned by Drachmann’s publisher Jacob Hegel. The portrait is on display in the Plesner galleries at Skagens Museum.

Krøyer’s masterpieces in Venice

Around the turn of the century, Krøyer was occupied with a series of large commissioned group portraits, which are the subject of this summer’s large special exhibition MASTERPIECES – Krøyer made to measure at Skagens Museum.

Krøyer’s work on the monumental canvasses was reflected in the selection of paintings he brought for the Biennale. In the catalogue for the second Biennale in 1897 we find Studio per un gran quadro: La borsa di Copenhagen among the paintings Krøyer exhibited, that is, a study for his monumental canvas From Copenhagen Stock Exchange, which he had finished in 1895.

Krøyer’s portrait of Japetus Stenstrup was among the works included in the Biennale of 1909. The portrait will be on display from May 25th in the special exhibition ‘MASTERPIECES – Krøyer made to measure’. Peder Severin Krøyer: ‘Professor of Zoology, Japetus Steenstrup gives a lecture’. 1895. Oil on canvas. SMK The National Gallery of Denmark. Photo: SMK Foto.

Among the 43 artworks at the large retrospective in 1909, the audience could see Committee for the French Art Exhibition in Copenhagen 1888, and several studies for From Copenhagen Stock Exchange and A meeting in The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. The finished pieces and several of the studies can be seen at the upcoming exhibition at Skagens Museum.

The return of the Skagen painters to Venice

The Venice Biennale in 1909 was to be last one with Danish participation for some time. Only in 1932 Denmark returned to the Biennale, and this time including the Skagen painters again.

Viggo Johansen: Mother and child. 1885. The painting is on display in the East Side Gallery at Skagens Museum.

At the 1932 inaugural exhibit of the new Danish pavilion designed by Carl Brummer, Denmark presented a display of Danish art between 1890-1910. The display contained several artworks now in the collection of the Art Museums of Skagen including Viggo Johansen’s Mother and child from 1885, which was recently put on public display in the collection at Skagens Museum.

As the chairman of the Danish Arts Foundation’s Committee for Visual Arts Project Funding, the director of the Art Museums of Skagen, Lisette Vind Ebbesen participates in the official of the Danish pavilion. Artist Larissa Sansour (b. 1973) will be representing Denmark at Venice Biennale 2019. Read more at the Danish Arts Foundation’s website or follow the tag #danishpavilion on social media.