The convivial and contemporary life of the bourgeoisie was the focus of Danish painter Sophus Vermehren. With strong, artistic skill running through his blood, Vermehren would continue a painting legacy within his family whilst contributing to the greater education in the arts within Denmark.
Vermehren was in good artistic company within his family. His father was the prolific and highly esteemed Frederik Vermehren (1823-1910), whilst his brother, Gustav Vermehren (1863-1931) also painted. Indeed, it was from their father that both brothers first learnt their craft. Both would then advance to the preparatory Technical School and eventually the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
The first painting Vermehren ever exhibited, fresh out of art school, earnt him the prestigious Neuhausen prize. Such early success would be only the beginning of a lucrative art career. Vermehren worked for a time in a teaching post at the Technical School before, with his brother Gustav, he established his own school. The brothers took on students of the likes of Sigurd Sölver Schou (1875-1944) and Axel Søeborg (1872-1939).
Vermehren’s successful first piece had been a portrait of Professor Adolph Kittendorff. Whilst Vermehren did indeed paint portraits, and altarpieces and landscapes as well, it was for his genre scenes that he became most well-known.
Whereas his father had made a name for himself with gloriously illuminated genre scenes of folklife, it was to the bourgeoise middle-class Vermehren turned his attention. Genre scenes had grown increasingly popular in Denmark during the 19th century. They typically focussed on rural life, however, a group of artists were beginning to find an interest in depictions of the middle class. Vermehren was one such artist.
He found interest in capturing the everyday interactions and rituals this group undertook, depicting them all in gentile, pleasantly fresh interiors. A young woman shows off a new dress. The lady of the house discovers a slacking maid reading whilst at her duties. A young girl is guided around a gallery amongst the pale beauties of marble statues.
Within each painting there is a strong sense of character, sharp, realistic definition of figures and their expressions. Quite often Vermehren has them posed at a dining table, their relaxed poses pointing to this being a time of leisure and contentment. A canny use of lightning adds to the realistic quality of Vermehren’s work. It also allows him to play with colour. He deepens the shadows surrounding the unfaithful maid and casts her mistress, and her troubled expression, in an ominous gloom. It adds a sense of jeopardy to the piece, the viewer wonders what peril the maid might soon face. At other times bright splashes of colour add an airy pleasantness, striking up wallpaper in pleasing pastels and highlighting the smart dress of the individuals.
Vermehren’s works exhibited well and he was the recipient of numerous scholarships. In 1900 he was awarded the great honour of the Eckersberg Medal in recognition of his work.
Vermehren continued his family’s artistic line with his marriage to fellow painter Yelva Bock. The couple had three children, two of whom received art training from their father. The eldest, Christian Vermehren (1903-1995), would produce a number of still life paintings.
Sophus Vermehren strikes a strong difference from the legacy of his father with his depictions of the bourgeoise. Nonetheless, the strong realism and sophisticated artistic hand were certainly passed down from father to son. The young Vermehren was just as skilled as the father, and, in depicting something different, in depicting contemporary life, Vermehren was not just displaying great skill but creating a record. He demonstrates the growing artistic interest in the middle-class, in witnessing and depicting societal rituals in a growing Denmark. All of this he does with a clever hand and discerning eye.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Studied at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
First exhibited at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition. Awarded the Neuhausen Prize.
Awarded the Bielke Legates grant.
Awarded the Eckersberg Medal.
Married Yelva Petrea Sophie Bock.
Exhibited at ‘The National Exhibition in Aarhus.’
Died in Frederiksberg, Denmark. Buried in Dragør Cemetery.