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 Christen Kobke  (1810 - 1848)

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Lived/Active: Denmark      Known for: genre, portrait and landscape painting

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Ad Code: 3
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from Auction House Records.
Luftstudie. Rødlig aftenhimmel med tunge sortgra skyer (Air study. Reddish evening sky with heavy Black-Grey Clouds)
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Little known beyond his native Denmark, Christen Kobke lived a short life of 37 years, but became very well respected in his own country as a painter who captured "the quintessence of Danish life during its most momentous and fertile period, which produced such cultural luminaries as Hans Christian Andersen and Soren Kierkegaard."  It was a time in the 1830s known as the Golden Age of Denmark, when a variety of cultural, scientific, and artistic accomplishments followed and offset a series of military and financial losses for the country.  "As Denmark's regeneration got under way, artists turned their sights to the people, traditions and customs of their native land, bolstered by a renewed sense of national pride. . ."

Kobke, a part of this era, was a quiet, domestic oriented person, who, although married, continued to live with his parents in Copenhagen.  He had little interest in travel, and was focused on life around him---people walking through village streets, structures, and landscapes.  He had entered the Royal Academy of Copenhagen at age eleven and studied with Christoffer Eckersberg (1783-1853), who emphasized the importance of painting from life rather than copying Old Masters and re-working Classical themes.  This teaching remained a life-long influence on Kobke.

Kobke's home the first part of his life was in the Citadel of Copenhagen, a military fort housing about 600 families.  Following a routine of sketching outdoors, he recorded much of that daily life genre in ways that pleased viewers because they could relate to the subject matter, because of his skill with the play of light, and because the combination made poetry out of ordinary circumstances.  Titles of these works included View from the Loft of the Grain Store at the Bakery in the Citadel (1831) and View Outside the North Gate of the Citadel (1834)In his handling of light, Kobke, like many of his contemporaries painted with the conviction that a divine being directed the natural world.

In 1833, Kobke moved with his family a mile away from the Citadel to a large villa on Lake Sortedam at BlegdammenHe married his cousin Suzanne in 1837, and in that location, painted many landscapes, "utilizing pristine light and a sharp focus".  Among his landscape subjects was Frederiksborg Castle, the summer residence of the King and Queen.  Kobke also did portraits, and his approach was to show people as natural 'down-to-earth human beings.  Examples include Master Baker P. Ryder, the Artist's Cousin, 1848 and Portrait of Margrethe Hahn, 1829.

The last years of his life were difficult.  From 1838 to 1840, he traveled around Italy, which made him unhappy because it violated his instincts to stay in Denmark.  With these travels, he was bowing to the prevalent view that exposure to the Continent was important for artistic excellence.  He spent time in Rome and Capri and Naples, and it is written that his landscapes of this period were "atypically large and romantic" and "lacked his usual sureness of touch".  A large painting of Capri that he worked on for six years after he left Italy was rejected as his submission for Royal Academy membership.  This disappointment combined with the death of two brothers; the death of Hermann Freund, his close friend and teacher; the illness of his wife; and the death of his father in 1843 necessitated the sale of the family home. 

However, a positive side of the period after visiting Italy was that Christen Kobke returned to his former subjects and style and created more of his signature works that appealed to his Danish peers.

Kobke died in 1848 of pneumonia, leaving a wife and two children as survivors.  His reputation waned until 1884 when exhibitions of his work highlighted his skills.  In 2010, an exhibition titled Christen Kobke: Danish Master of Light was held at the National Gallery of London, and the National Gallery of Scotland.

Sources:
David Jackson, "Christen Kobke: Reassessing the Finest Painter in Denmark's 'Golden Age' ", Fine Art Connoisseur, June, 2010, pp.26-29



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