Thursday, November 5, 2009

Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard : Biography

Nikolaj Abraham Abildgaard (September 11, 1743 – June 4, 1809), Danish artist, was born in Copenhagen, the son of Søren Abildgaard, an antiquarian draughtsman of repute, and Anne Margrethe Bastholm.

Training as an artist

He trained under a painting master before coming to the new Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) in Copenhagen, studying under Johan Edvard Mandelberg and Johannes Wiedewelt.

He won medallions at the Academy from 1764 to 1767. The large gold medallion from the Academy won in 1767 included a travel stipend, which he waited five years to receive.

He assisted Professor Mandelberg of the Academy as an apprentice ca. 1769, painting decorations for the royal palace at Fredensborg. These paintings are classical, influenced by French classical artists such as Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. Mandelberg had studied in Paris under François Boucher

Student travels
The Wounded Philoctetes (1775)

Although artists of that time typically traveled to Paris for further study, he chose to travel to Rome, where he stayed during the years 1772-1777. He took a side trip to Naples in 1776 with Jens Juel. His ambitions lay in the genre of history painting. While in Rome, he studied Annibale Carracci's frescoes at the Palazzo Farnese and the paintings of Rafael, Titian, and Michaelangelo. In addition he studied various other artistic disciplines (sculpture, architecture, decoration, wall paintings) and developed his knowledge of mythology, antiquities, anatomy, and perspective.

In the company of Swedish sculptor Johan Tobias Sergel and painter Johann Heinrich Füssli, he began to move away from the classicism he had learned at the Academy. He developed an appreciation for the literature of Shakespeare, Homer, and Ossian, the legendary Gaelic poet. He worked with themes from Greek as well as Norse mythology, which placed him at the forefront of Nordic romanticism.

He left Rome in June 1777 with the hope of becoming professor at the Academy in Copenhagen. He stopped for a stay in Paris, and arrived in Denmark in December of the same year.

Works

Though he won immense fame in his own generation and helped lead the way to the period of art known as the Golden Age of Danish Painting, his works are scarcely known outside of Denmark.

He was a cold theorist, inspired not by nature but by art. His style was classical, though with a romantic trend. He had a remarkable sense of colour. As a technical painter he attained remarkable success, his tone being very harmonious and even, but the effect, to a foreigner's eye, is rarely interesting.

A portrait of him painted by Jens Juel was made into a medallion by his friend Johan Tobias Sergel. August Vilhelm Saabye sculpted a statue of him in 1868 based on contemporary portraits.

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