Augusta Stylianou Gallery
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He was known especially for his history paintings, and especially those depicting strong, tragic, legendary women in Danish history. He also produced works of many other genres including landscapes, street scenes, folk scenes and portraits.
He had a far-reaching effect on the development of Danish art through his effective support of individual style among his students during the many years he taught, and by his pioneering use of color.
He was born in Rønne, Denmark on the island of Bornholm to chief doctor for the island Carl Vilhelm Zahrtmann and wife Laura Pauline. He was the oldest child among seven boys and two girls. After graduating from Rønne Realskole at seventeen years of age, he was sent to Sorø Academy, where he studied painting with landscape painter Johannes Georg Smith Harder (also known as Hans Harder). He was often a guest at the home of the Academy’s Director, poet Bernhard Severin Ingemann and his wife, where he had the chance to socialize with teachers of the school and other guests, such as Hans Christian Andersen. He graduated in 1862, and received his cand. phil in 1863. During these years he lived with a family whose daughter was a painter, which inspired him also to try his luck as an artist.
After graduating he came to Copenhagen, where during the winter 1863-1864 he studied drawing at the Technical Institute under Christian Hetsch and architect Ferdinand Vilhelm. Jensen. He also received private instruction from genre painter Wenzel Ulrich Tornøe during this same time. He then began his studies in October 1864 at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Danish: Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) where he studied under Johan Adolph Kittendorff, Wilhelm Marstrand, Jørgen Roed, Niels Simonsen, and Frederik Vermehren, a fellow graduate of Sorø Academy. Classmates included August Jerndorff, Peder Severin Krøyer and Rasmus Frederik Hendriksen.
Artistic career begins
He graduated from the Academy in 1868, and exhibited for the first time at Charlottenborg the following year with "En Konfirmandinde paa Bornholm" ("A Young Girl Being Confirmed on Bornholm"). He exhibited regularly at Charlottenborg 1869-1891, and sporadically afterwards.
He became friends with painter Otto Carl Bentzon Haslund and Pietro Købke Krohn, later Museum Director, with whom he shared a studio.
Leonora Christina and other historical subjects
He had already become interested in the story of the heroic 17th century daughter of a Danish king, Leonora Christina Ulfeldt (also known as Eleanor Christine), before the 1869 posthumous publication of her 1674 autobiographical narrative Jammers Minde ("Remembrance of Misery"), which he had received as a birthday gift from Haslund and Krohn.
Countess Leonora Christina of Schleswig-Holstein, King Christian IV's daughter by his morganatic love marriage to a noble Danish maiden, had fallen from grace because of her husband Corfits Ulfeldt's alleged high treason. She was then imprisoned for 22 years in the Blue Tower (Blåtårn) in Copenhagen Castle, and spent her final years in the solitude of Maribo cloister.
Zahrtmann commemorated her story in a series of 18 large paintings over many years. The first of these paintings was made public in 1871, Slotsfogden skjæmter med Kvinderne i den nylig fængslede Kongedatters Kammer paa Blaataarn ("Castle Keeper Banters with Women in the Chamber of the King's Daughter in the Blue Tower"). The painting won him a Neuhausen Prize (Neuhausenske Præmie’), was sold to Niels Laurits Høyen's influential Art Union (Kunstforeningen), and was followed by a series of other paintings on the same theme. These paintings established his reputation as one of the leading artists of his time.
Other pictures in the series include: 1873 Leonora Christina forlader Fængselet ("Leonora Christina leaves Prison"), 1875 Leonora Christina i Fængselet ("Leonora Christina in Prison") in the Hirschsprung Collection; Corfits Ulfeldt og Leonora Christina ("Corfitz Ulfeldt and Leonora Christina"); 1882 Dronning Sophie Amalies Død ("Queen Sophie Amalie’s Death") and 1883 Leonora Christina paa Maribo Kloster ("Leonora Christina at Maribo Cloister") both in the collection of the Danish National Gallery; and three versions (1886, 1888 and 1894) of Leonora Christina undersøges af Sophie Amalies Tjenerinder ("Leonora Christina Undressed and Searched by Sophie Amalie’s Maids") in the Hirschsprung Collection.
At the same time he explored other motifs, although Leonora Christina was an obsession that followed him throughout life. In 1872 he made a portrait of Georg Brandes, who summered near Zahrtmann at Christiansholm near Klampenborg north of Copenhagen.
In 1873 he won another Neuhausen Prize for Sigbrit gennemgår toldregnskaberne med Christian II ("Sigbrit Reviews Tax Accounts with Christian II"), and exhibited a preparatory painting for Job og hans Venner ("Job and His Friends"), which won him the Academy’s gold medallion. The final painting of "Job and His Friends" won him the Academy’s gold medallion in 1887, and is considered one of his masterpieces.
In 1873 he also painted "Scene from the Court of Christian VII 1772" to retell the tragic story of Queen Caroline Matilda on the centenniel of the fall of Johann Friedrich Struensee. The painting is in the Hirschsprung Collection. Characteristically for Zahrtmann he made several other paintings over the years depicting the story of these main characters.
He tried to extract a travel stipend from the Academy three times, which should have been due him as winner of the large gold medal, but the funds were not forthcoming until two years later. Zahrtmann spends the summer of 1873 at Hornbæk (Helsingør municipality) in the company of fellow painters Peder Severin Krøyer and Viggo Johansen.
He finally traveled to Italy in December 1875 with financing from his father, before he received a travel grant from the Academy. 1875-1878 he resided in Italy (Rome, Siena, Amalfi and Saracinesco), where he produced a number of paintings. He traveled afterwards many times again to Italy, including in 1882-1884 on an Ancher Fund grant along with artists Joakim Frederik Skovgaard, Theodor Esbern Philipsen, and Viggo Pedersen. He was fascinated by the life there, the strong Italian sun, the brightness of colors, and the exoticness of Catholic Church rites which he depicted in many paintings.
He traveled for the first time to the mountain town of Civita d'Antino in June 1883, a town he came to consider his second home. He spent every summer 1890-1911 in Civita d'Antino, where he lived with the Cerroni family, and gathered friends and students in an annual artist colony. He was named an honorary citizen of the town in 1902.
He also traveled to Greece several times, as well as to France and Portugal.
He exhibited at the World’s Exhibition in Paris 1878, 1889, 1900 and in Chicago 1893.
The Artists Studio School (Kunstnernes Studieskole) was established in the winter 1882-1883 as a protest against the Art Academy’s policies, and as an alternative to its educational program. It was led by P.S. Krøyer and Laurits Tuxen. Zahrtmann taught at the school 1885-1908, where he taught ca. 200 students from the Scandinavian lands. Because of his prominence as a teacher the school was often simply referred to as "Zahrtmann’s School". Some of his students included Funen artists Peter Hansen, Fritz Syberg, Poul S. Christiansen and Johannes Larsen; Oluf Hartmann; and modern painters Karl Isakson; Edvard Weie, Harald Giersing and Olaf Rude.
He helped establish the "Free Exhibition" (Den frie Udstilling), an alternative exhibition space, which opened in 1891.
Later artistic career
He made a number of portraits of his parents, including one of his father in 1887 and one of his mother, who played a significant role in his life, in 1899-1901. These, as well as a large format painting of both parents in their living room from 1895-1901, are in the collection of the Bornholm Art Museum.
In 1900 he wintered over in Portofino where he painted the color-drenched landscapes "Havnen i Portofino, 1900" ("Harbour in Portofino, 1900") (1900) and "Min frokostbord i Portofino, 1900" ("My Lunch Table in Portofino, 1900") (1900).
He won a bronze medallion at the World Exhibition in Paris 1900.
In his later life he painted a series of picture based on men in mythology: "Prometheus" (1905), "Sokrates and Alkibides" (1907, 1911), and "Adam in Paradise" (1913-14). The large format "Adam in Paradise" is suggestively homoerotic, with its vital, young, muscular Adam coyly leaning back in a lush, color-drenched botanic paradise, while the snake is arched half-way up his leg, its tongue darting, and Adam conceals himself casually with a sprig of fig leaves.
He also painted a number of self portraits in his later years, including one painted in 1913, which is considered one of his finest works. It is in the collection of the National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg Palace.
He bought land and built a house on Fuglebakken in Frederiksberg, which was designed by Hans Koch and Zahrtmann himself. He called the house "Casa d’Antino", and moved in autumn 1912.
He appeared in a 1913 silent-era documentary film about himself entitled "Kristian Zahrtmann", which was directed by Sophus Wangøe, also known as Sophus Wangöe.
June 1917 he was hospitalised with appendicitis. After an apparent improvement his condition worsened, and he died on June 22 in Frederiksberg. He was buried in Vestre Cemetery, Copenhagen. A relief with the theme of "Leonora Christina leaves the Prison" decorates his grave. The relief was drawn by architect Thorvald Bindesbøll and painter Joakim Skovgaard, and was carved from Bornholm granite by Larsen Stevns.
In Civita d’Antino a memorial plaque was set into the wall of the Cerroni house near the town gate. A monument with a statue of Zahrtmann was erected on the open plaza in front of his house, and the plaza is named after him.
He never married. It is widely reported that he was a latent homosexual.
A portrait of him by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1899) is found in the Hirschsprung Collection.
* "San Lidano fest i Civita d’Antino" ("San Lidano Celebration in Civita d’Antino") (1890), Privately owned.
* KID Kunst Index Danmark ("Art Index Denmark")
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