Not too far from the Rosenborg Castle and Gardens in old Copenhagen is the stately Staten Museum For Kunst (the state museum for art). Recently, a section was added to the old edifice. When I last visited in 2006, I was not quite sure what to make of the combination of the two styles of architecture. Separately, each was very well done, expressing the motif of the times in such a way that the visitor could appreciate the diversity. Together, they seemed like strange bedfellows, but then again, the same thing can be said about all the different styles of art that one finds within the walls of this national art museum, located in the Danish capitol.
A good day to visit this place is Wednesday, because admission is free except for the special exhibitions that usually take up the main gallery downstairs. There is no better time to journey up the large set of stairs and check out the many rooms that hold the classical landscapes and still life paintings from the nineteenth century that have commonly come to be known as the “Golden Age of Danish Painting”.
Not only did these artists successfully render the countryside of pastoral Denmark to a stretched and primed piece of canvas, they also journeyed to the Mediterranean and Middle East and brought some very, interesting images from that corner of the world. This was in the days before the camera, so these works of art also sufficed as a bit of a travel guide and history lecture at the same time.
Their names are not yet household words and probably never will be unless you happen to own one of these remarkable paintings, but they never fail to impress visitors and tell their own quiet story about European life in the nineteenth century. The father of this period of painting would be Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, and the works of his students Wilhelm Bendz, Christen Købke, Martinus Rørbye, Constantin Hansen, Wilhelm Marstrand and Bertel Thorvaldsen fill much of the museum space that is devoted to this period of painting.
The rest of the museum was devoted to various forms and expression from contemporary times and the twentieth century. Besides the usual smattering of Cubism, Surrealism, German Expressionism and American Pop you will find a good number of examples of Cobra Art.
While not exactly a household name in America, Cobra is the one modern art movement of any importance that has strong ties to this tiny country. For those of you who are not familiar with Cobra, the word has a double meaning, for Co-Br-A, came to abbreviate the three cities, where it took root, Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. It seems to have begun in Copenhagen during the German Occupation of World War II and quickly and almost simultaneously spread to the other low countries immediately after the war.
The art railed against the insanity of war and against the madmen that proffered by such ventures. It embraced primitive art, the art of the insane and even children’s drawings in attempt to come to terms with the destruction that had come to Europe. It was overshadowed by Abstract Expressionism in America, but today Denmark proudly celebrates in own contributions to this fascinating footnote in art history.
The important names for the Danes are Asger Jorg, Henry Heerup, Carl-Henning Pedersen and Egill Jacobsen and you can see some of their mostly abstract and primitive works here at the museum and other places around northern Europe as well. There is even a museum near Amsterdam that is completely devoted to Cobra artists.
All of this impressive collection plus the changing shows that are shown in the main galleries, make the Statens Museum an interesting place to visit. The main gallery, which takes up most of the first floor, has become an important venue within the country, and is well worth a walk through its large rooms. From the outside the museum appears to have a small park that surrounds the building. In a crowded city, like Copenhagen, where space is at a premium, there can be no better welcoming mat than the green space which surrounds it.