Valdemar Kornerup made his name as one of the last great folk life painters in Denmark. When painting styles around him were changing and modernising, Kornerup looked to a tradition of Danish art to create paintings which celebrated home comforts and the simple life.
Kornerup received a thorough artistic education. As well as lessons from his father, lithographer and draughtsman Lars Andreas Kornerup (1822-1894), Kornerup also attended the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts. On top of this, he also received tuition from Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909), an eminent painter who was promoting the newer style which was currently sweeping across Europe at the time: impressionism.
Kornerup, however, was much more intrigued by the Danish painting tradition of the Danish Golden Age, which had occurred earlier in the 19th century. Here, the beauties of Denmark, both natural and human, were celebrated, idealised, romanticised. Folklife, and the simple rustic spirit of rural life, were celebrated as utopias of simplicity, far away from the churning cogitations of the industrial revolution. There was a profitable market for artworks which captured this whimsical nostalgia, preserving it through joyous, delicate painting.
Even as many of his contemporaries became swept up in the modern modes of painting, such as impressionism, being imported from the rest of Europe, Kornerup became progressively enchanted with this older style. With sharp realism he captures the homely interiors of creaky cottages and familial farmsteads. An old couple sit huddled at their table, quite content with their books and knitting. Delicately rendered flowers clamour at the windows, set upon the sill, drawn upwards by the enticing slither of sunlight outside. It casts crisp light upon the room, just tickling the flowers’ petals and the aged lines on the occupants’ faces. There is a sense of serenity, no need to rush.
Even in scenes of finer interiors, there remains a focus on the simple motions of life: a family eating breakfast, apples stacked upon the tabletop, as fresh as if they have just been plucked from the orchard. A mother cares for her child, whose naïve movements stir feelings of whimsy. This Kornerup represents with clarity of composition and a keen eye for detail. His works show clear influence from the Danish Golden Age greats such as Julius Exner (1825-1910) and Frederik Vermehren (1823-1910).
Alongside his painting, Kornerup worked for a time at a painting school for women and as a drawing teacher for Viscount Reventlow. This position afforded him the benefit of travelling with the statesman across Europe. Germany, France, and Austria were among the places Kornerup would visit. Examples remain of landscapes executed by him in these places. There is the same canny detail, the same vibrant colouring.
It was his sentimental scenes of his homeland, however, for which Kornerup was celebrated. These remain as fine examples of the Danish painting tradition and how compelling it could be to an artist, even as the art world around him was irrevocably changing.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Studied at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
First exhibited at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition.
Travelled to France and Italy.
Travelled to Italy, Spain and Greece.
Married Agnes Margrethe Stisgaard. Travelled to Italy.
Wife Agnes Margrethe Stisgaard died.
Lived and worked in Norway.
Married Ada Dorothea Christine Johanne Hertz.
Died in Copenhagen, Denmark.