Alfred Mӓrtens paid tribute to the sublime, transcendent nature of the Danish countryside in the wide-ranging oeuvre of works he produced over his lifetime. From coast to coast, grassland to heath, Mӓrten’s homeland offered him inspiration aplenty for his emotional and highly colourised paintings.
It seems that Mӓrtens’ artistic tendencies were derived from and found their energy in the natural world that surrounded him. Mӓrtens received no formal artistic training, although he did take lessons from landscape painter Albert Wang (1864-1930) during a stay in Horsens. There are certainly similarities in technique between the two artists. An effusive use of colour in particular bonds their artistic tendencies, however Mӓrtens extends the drama through the powerful application of his paints.
Through the slashing of a palette knife or the vigorous, upbeat tempo of his brush, Mӓrtens translates the vivacity of his scenes onto the canvas. Be it the bristling of grassy dunes in a coastal wind, or a trembling stream cutting through sandy banks, Mӓrtens’ expressive colours and application are eloquent and attractive. Throughout his life, Mӓrtens lived in many rural locations throughout Denmark that offered ample inspiration. The grassy heathlands of Vejle, the verdant sprawl of Karup, and the sea-stained, water-sunken, piecemeal land of Limfjord all feature frequently in his works. Through a blend of realism which offers recognition and relation, and an impassioned execution reminiscent of the emotive impressionists, Mӓrtens’ works are a love letter to his Danish homeland.
Mӓrtens also found inspiration from other countries on the many travels he made across Europe. Holland in particular features in his oeuvre. Perhaps it is not surprising that the technicolour fields of tulips appealed to his colour-loving tendencies. He depicts them in swathes of zesty colours, laid across his canvas like sheets, palette knife whipping up the tips of tulips to suggest the multitudinous flowers laid out before the viewer. There is also clear inspiration from the masters of the Dutch Golden Age in a selection of Mӓrtens’ work. This suggests some experimentation on his part as he works with more subdued colours and a more succinct, streamlined expression of nature.
Subdued, too, are the smaller number of interior scenes Mӓrtens executed. He picks more earthen colours to wash walls and floors, dressing figures in dull, simple clothing. A boy sat upon a stall casts a solitary, contemplative figure. He is seemingly being consumed by the gloom of the room, the only lasting slice of vibrant colour is a small flower he grasps in his hands. It is a reflective work that perhaps demonstrates some experimentation on Mӓrtens’ part to explore the connection between human emotion and nature, and indeed the communication of emotion through paint and canvas.
Mӓrtens exhibited frequently throughout Denmark, both at the prominent Charlottenborg exhibition in Copenhagen and through more provincial exhibitions in Vejle and Horsens. He also received the esteemed Sødring Prize for a seasonal scene of Karup in 1927. Mӓrtens, it seems, became a steadfast presence of Danish art in the early 20th-Century. His emotional landscapes and contemplative interiors were a distinct, unique sign of his hand.
Born in Hyrup Skov, Denmark.
Married Karen Ester Munch. Moved to Randbøl Hede, Vejle, Denmark.
First exhibition, at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition.
Awarded the Sødring Prize.
Died in Karup, Denmark. Buried in Karup Cemetery.