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Photo: Ole Akhøj

Harald Slott-Møller

'The Artist’s Wife'

1887

Like another heroine, she looks dreamily out at the painting. Solidly anchored with both legs on the ground. She's not that straight to knock out.

The painting The Artist's Wife overflows with the artist Harald Slott-Møller's admiration for the woman in the picture. His fiancée Agnes.

Nevertheless, the painting caused great outrage when it was exhibited for the first time. Here, one of the museum's art historians Guri Skygge Andersen tells why.

Why is the painting here so remarkable?

“The painting is from Harald Slott-Møller's very young days. From before he married the woman in the picture. His fiancée Agnes Rambusch, later known as the artist Agnes Slott-Møller.

The painting shows both how bold and how talented he was.

First of all, it is unusual to portray a woman in this way in 1887. That she is in full figure. That she appears strong, proud and relaxed. That she rests in herself. He dares to show some raw strength in a woman. It is not adorable and housewife-like, as the norms prescribed at the time.

Moreover, the painting shows how talented he was as a newly graduated, naturalistic painter. He was one of the Skagen painter PS Krøyer's most talented students. This can especially be seen in his technique in jewelry, lace and skin. And the many shades he manages to add to the black color. ”

 

Facts

Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937)

Dated: 1887
Material: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 191 x 104 cm
Acquisition: Gift 1927 from Ny Carlsbergfondet

 

What did Harald Slott-Møller want with the artwork?

“Of course he wanted to show his beautiful fiancée in a loving and admiring way.

But he has also had an idea that the portrait could be used as an illustration of the motto of the modern breakthrough: "Enlighten the country - that's what we want".

The modern breakthrough was a current of time in which visual art and literature were to portray reality. The artists wanted to get rid of ideals and idyll. And Harald Slott-Møller thus connected his girlfriend with the new values ​​that he hoped could change the world. ”

 

What does the work of art tell about the time in which it was created?

“The painting testifies to how both art and our gender roles have developed.

When the painting was exhibited at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, critics thought Agnes was ugly and the picture failed. Her appearance seemed too manly.

It was also very inappropriate in her expression because she had not married Harald Slott-Møller yet. At the time, the title of the painting was therefore also Miss Rambusch.

The reaction to the painting thus says something about the current view of women's role. Agnes undoubtedly broke with the traditional female role. Only very few women received an education. And in the late 1800th century, female artists were relegated to schools for women only.

Agnes is first educated at the School of Art and Design for Women. Subsequently, she receives tuition from PS Krøyer, and finally she gets Harald Slott-Møller as a teacher. She married him in 1888. So the year after the portrait is painted!

In terms of art history, the painting also shows signs of a new symbolist current.

Harald Slott-Møller has probably painted in a completely naturalistic style, where Agnes seems incredibly sensually present. But there is something more at stake. For she also illustrates a vision of an enlightened world in change.

It testifies to Harald Slott-Møller's beginning interest in symbolism, where art has a more sublime purpose than what we can immediately see and sense. ”

 

What characterizes Harald Slott-Møller's technique?

“He has used two important tools to give her that strong appearance.

In part, she is painted in a way that characterizes a classic prince portrait. You see her in full figure and frog perspective. Her body position with the dress forms a pyramidal shape, which gives her stability and weight.

And in part, the painting testifies to his ability to use black. Something he was known for. Here he uses the black to create drama and seriousness. Her dress becomes a large, black field, which highlights her illuminated face. She is much more head than body. ”

 

Three important details according to Guri Skygge Andersen:

1.“The lace collar and brooch show her fine, time-typical outfits. And that Harald Slott-Møller has focused on feminine details. ”

2.“Her skin. He has breathed life into her by working with the skin tones, the glow in her cheeks and her slightly rougher hands. She is clearly a being he has sensed himself. It shows his talent as a naturalistic painter. ”

3.“The size and format of the painting makes her very heroine-like. Portraits in portrait full figure are extremely uncommon for women at this time. And here she is even painted bigger than she really was. ”

Please note that the work is not necessarily exhibited in the museum.

Guri Skygge Andersen is an art historian and art educator. On a daily basis, she is responsible for the museum’s department of learning and education.

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Note: Danish only