Artists Illustrating Boys' Fashions: Christoffer Vilhelm Eckersberg (Denmark, 1783-1853)



Figure 1.--This wonderful portrait of the Nathanson family was done in 1818 soon after Eckersberg returned to Copenhagen. The name seems to suggest a Danish Jewish family. Notice the father wears knee britches. The two girls wear classical white Empire dresses and pantalettes. The todler boy wears a similar dress, but colored rather than white. The older boy wears a blue tunic with pants that look rather like pantalettes.

Christoffer Vilhelm Eckersberg is among the most noted Danish artists. He followed his father's profession and studied to be an artisan painter in Aabenraa and Flensburg. He showed considerable skill and was accepted at the Copenhagen Academy. Eckersberg went to Paris and studied under J.L. David, already a noted artist, in Paris. While in Rome he became a friend of the fellow Danish artist, Thorvaldsen. Eckersberg returned to Denmark in 1816. We note portraits of wealthy Danish families almost immediately on his return. Eckerberg also taught at the Copenhagen Academy, eventually becoming the director, and thus enfluencing a generation of Danish artists. He painted a range of subjects, including both portraits and seascapes, often drawn in great detail. His portraits are thus a wonderful source of information on early 19th century costuming. Among his best know works are a series of historical paintings in the Christiansborg palace. We have encountered problems researching Eckerberg in that much of the source material is in Danish.

Parents

Christoffer's father was a joiner and painter in Blaakrog near Aabenraa in southern Jutland, which at the time was part of the Duchy of Schlesvig which was later annexed by Prussia.

Childhood

We know little about Christoffer's childhhod.

Education

Christoffer followed his father's profession and studied to be an artisan painter in Aabenraa and Flensburg. He showed considerable skill and was accepted at the Copenhagen Academy where he studied under Nicolai Abildgaard (1803-1809). At the Academy, he won every category of medal offered. He then went to Paris and studied under J.L. David, already a noted artist, in Paris (1810-13). David at the time was perhaps the most respected artist in France. This was during the Napoleonic era when David was still highly influential in art circles. David's Neo-Classical style can be seen in Eckersberg's portariats and historical works.

Career

Eckersberg then moved to in Rome (1813-16). These were tumultous years in Europe with Napoleon's fall and the restoration of the old European monarchies. He worked as an independent artist in Rome and was also able to study many great works of the Italian masters. He met the noted Danish sculptor Thorvaldsen and shared a house with him. His paintings in Rome are classical works like "The Spartan Boy", "Bacchus and Ariadne", "Ulysses".

Eckersberg returned to Denmark in 1816. We note portraits of wealthy Danish families almost immediately on his return. These portraits proved to be extremely popular and he was soon much in demand. Eckerberg was appointed a professor at the Copenhagen Academy in 1818 and teaching became a life-long devotion. He became the director of the Academy (1827-29). His interest in teaching enfluenced generation of Danish artists. He exhibited his work at Charlottenborg from 1824 to 1851. He made a number of short voyages, often to other Scandinavian countries or nearby German locations (1824-51). His travels took him to Sweden, Norway, and Germany (Kiel and Warnemünde). The trip to Warnemünde he made with Thorvaldsen. He also visited Dover, London and Hamburg.

Subjects

Eckersberg was no specialist. He painted a wide range of subjects. His works include genre scenes, portraits, figure paintings, historical depictions, altar pieces, seascapes, buildings, city views (especially Paris and Rome), as well as a few landscapes. Some of his best works are the portraits and seascapes, often drawn with precission and great detail. His portraits are thus a wonderful source of information on early 19th century costuming. Among his best know works are a series of historical paintings in the Christiansborg palace. Eckersberg was a revelation for Denmark which after the Napoleonic era had become a European backwater. Many Danish observers were struck by what they referred to as his "Danish color". He was first Danish artist that discarded the conventional tones and composition of pseudo-classical landscape, and used more natural, clear tones to paint the sky and clouds as well as depict more natural outlines of Danish scenery, especially in his seacapes.

Children's Clothing

The only Eckerberg image we have at this time is a wonderful portrait of the Nathanson family was done in 1818 soon after Eckersberg returned to Copenhagen. The name seems to suggest a Danish Jewish family. We are uncertain to what extent the clothing depicted represents specifically Danish clothing. We rather suspect that it is a good representation of Wester European costuming at the time showing a strong French indluence. Notice the father wears knee britches. The two girls wear classical white Empire dresses and pantalettes. The todler boy wears a similar dress, but colored rather than white. The older boy wears a blue tunic with pants that look rather like pantalettes.

Associations

His closest association was with Thorvaldsen who he met in Rome and became a life-long friend. Art critics say that Thorvaldsen influence can be seen in Eckersberg's work.






Christopher Wagner





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Created: May 9, 2002
Last updated: May 9, 2002