Vermehren, Frederik (1823-1910)

Vermehren, Frederik (1823-1910)

Biography by Andy Shield

Frederik Vermehren was a genre and portrait painter that worked during the ‘Golden Age of Danish Painting’. He’s best known for his depictions of ordinary rural folk, particularly farmers and those that work the land.

His first exposure to the academic world of art came via drawing classes with landscape painter Hans Harder (1792–1873) at the Sorø Academy. This provided the basis for a successful career and in 1844, he enrolled at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen.

With the Academy’s support, Vermehren spent time absorbing the rich artistic heritage of flourishing cities such as Florence, Venice, Rome, Paris, Cologne and Brussels. He would later exhibit in many major international cities, including at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878.

In 1864, he became a member of the Academy and focused primarily on portraiture from that point on.

Since his death in 1910, many of his works have been acquired by museums, including the National Art Museum in Copenhagen, and one of his early paintings ‘A Shoemaker in his Kitchen’ was purchased by King Christian VIII.

Biography by Polly Pyke

Frederik Vermehren is considered one of the greatest Danish artists of the 19th century. His crisp realism and clarity of execution saw him regarded in his time as a maestro of his medium, and a proponent of the popular National Romantic movement in art.

Vermehren’s beginnings were not artistically prosperous. His father was reluctant for his son to pursue an art career. Vermehren’s innate talents were noticed, however, by local artist Jørgen Roed (1808-1888). Roed, along with Vermehren’s teachers at the prestigious Sorø Academy, eventually persuaded his father to allow Vermehren to journey to Copenhagen to study at the eminent Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art.

Vermehren would find much success during his time at the Academy and, indeed, when he began to exhibit his works. His first exhibited painting was purchased by King Christian VIII of Denmark and praised by the art critic Niels Laurits Høyen (1798-1870). Høyen was a great encourager of nationalism through art. During the 19th century, Denmark was experiencing the cultivation of a clearer national identity, something which was reflected in its artistic production. National Romanticism celebrated the natural beauty of Denmark and focussed on everyday life, most commonly on simpler, idyllic folk life. A sharp realism and strong use of colour was a common motif of National Romantic painters such as Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853).

These were stylistic qualities that Vermehren would very much adopt in his own work. Heathland is cultivated by steady, constant lines, strumming up the thicket and the fern. The viewer feels as if they should squint against the immediate, stunning light of the crystalline sky. His figures gaze upon the viewer with authenticity. There is no pomp or ceremony, the true glory of Vermehren’s work is his ability to conjure genuine character. His realism seems to resonate off of the canvas, it is so bewitching in its excruciating detail.

Vermehren continued to create these crystal-clear depictions of Danish folk life throughout his career. He would expand his focus to other European countries, working for a number of years in Italy and France. In Italy, he would find inspiration in the sun-baked hills and valleys and in those who lived amongst them. A small shepherd boy is captured, sun blanching his simple clothes, standing with dignity despite the rips in his shirt and his bare feet. There is something so honest about the boy, he is as great a subject as any god or hero.

France, too, offered him some inspiration from the colourists working in Paris. Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891) in particular became a source of inspiration, with his similarly excruciating attention to detail. Nonetheless, Vermehren stayed true to his Danish roots. Upon his return to his homeland, he worked both as a teacher and a portraitist. An expanding middle class saw a greater demand for portraits, and unsurprisingly Vermehren was popular. Photography seems obsolete in the face of his delicately rendered sitters.

Vermehren’s success would see him bestowed with great honours and titles, including the prestigious national Order of Dannebrog. His works have been frequently exhibited in exhibitions of Danish art, as well as being held in many museums across Denmark, including the National Museum. Vermehren achieved a sense of timelessness with his undiluted realism. His works seem as boldly coloured and as shockingly resonant today as they did in his time. He is one of the great Danish painters of the 19th century.

1823

Born in Zealand, Ringsted, Denmark.

1838

Studied at the Sorø Academy.

1844-1846

Studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art.

1847

First exhibited at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition.

1855-1857

Travelled to and worked in Italy.

1857

Married Thomasine Ludvigne Grimer.

1863

Travelled to France, Italy, and the Netherlands.

1864

Became a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art.

1873-1901

Worked as a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art.

1883

Travelled to Germany.

1892

Appointed Commander of the Dannebrog.

1910

Died in Copenhagen, Denmark. Buried in Assistens Cemetery.

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