Danish artist Peter Mønsted possessed the canny ability to summon the natural characteristics of a country and translate them into a painting of great skill and strong naturalism. His works were extremely popular in his time and his many travels brought him insight and expertise in the celebration of nature through sophisticated depiction.
Mønsted began his artistic prospects by attending painting lessons in Aarhus. He then progressed to Copenhagen, to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Here he was introduced to the Danish painting tradition of a romantically tinged naturalism which sought to celebrate the glory of the Danish countryside.
However, like many of his painting peers, Mønsted left the Academy to study at the popular school of Peder Severin Krøyer (1851-1909), whose impressionist flair was growing increasingly popular within Denmark. Yet impressionism left no impression upon Mønsted, and upon a trip to Paris he was drawn into the studio of William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905).
Bouguereau painted in the academic style long engrained in art. Mønsted gained from him an appreciation of ‘academic naturalism,’ in which a detailed, sophisticated depiction of nature is done with the utmost skill of brushwork. Married with his own natural skill, Mønsted had found his forte.
There is a sharp discipline and delicate rendering in his scenes of the Danish countryside. Trees line a lakeside with dignified authority yet wilt in their majesty to the setting sun. It cuts through their branches and fans out across the surface of the lake, staining wavering water in golden hues. Another scene of a lake has the entire canvas cast in a light which emphasises the burgeoning verdancy of nature in its thrall. Trees burst with leafy abundance, whilst grassland sways with luscious fluidity. Mønsted was also very keen on depicting winter scenes, and crisp blankets of white snow curve and crease to the mould of nature, settling into his scenes with a dignity and strength.
Despite the ever-growing prominence of impressionism, this ‘academic naturalism’ style was still popular, and Mønsted garnered increasing popularity as his career progressed. His skill was married with his desire to travel often, affording him the chance to study new scenes, new nature. From Algeria to Greece to Switzerland, Mønsted’s ability to capture the essence of the world around him earnt him many an admirer. Indeed, during his time in Greece he would paint for the Greek Royal Family.
It was sketches of nature from these travels in his later life that also earnt Mønsted renown. In these sketches, he demonstrates a more elaborate knowledge of the importance and influence of light upon the scenery. ‘Natural academicism’ does tend not to pay attention to light’s influence in the same manner as other styles, and Mønsted’s ability to develop and experiment with his work, even at an older age, says much about his natural abilities as an artist.
This is not to say that Mønsted’s oil paintings lack passion. Indeed, they demonstrate verve through discerning refinement of the piece. Each detail is accounted for, each glorious choice of colour. His demonstration of passion may be less obvious than in the works of a wilder naturalism or an effusive impressionism, but it is a key tenet of his art.
Mønsted was popular both in Denmark and abroad. Indeed, he may have been even more popular abroad than in his homeland. Germany, in particular, was incredibly keen on his art, and many an exhibition was held in Munich. Nonetheless, Mønsted is represented in Danish museums and galleries, and his singular place in the tapestry of Danish art has not gone unappreciated. He makes for an interesting case study in the development of Danish art during the second half of the 19th century.
Born in Balle Mølle, Denmark.
Studied at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
Exhibited frequently at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition.
Travelled to Italy and Switzerland.
Travelled to Paris, France.
Married Elna Mathilde Marie Sommer. Travelled to Algeria and Switzerland.
Travelled to Greece and Egypt.
Died in Fredensborg, Denmark. Buried in Garnison Cemetery.