This early 20th-century oil painting by Danish artist Harald Rudyard Engman (1903-1968) depicts a row of houses at Nyboder, Copenhagen.
Amid the silhouettes and shadows of a street he repeatedly painted, stands the essence of a brilliant artist. One whose courage led to rapid exile amid the horrors of war.
Harald Engman, the son of a sailor, probably lived in one of these Copenhagen dwellings before the outbreak of World War II. It’s tricky to decipher from ancestry records, but it’s clear that his childhood home was nearby. Nyboder, created for King Christian IV’s navy men, consisted of rows of terrace houses unusual for their yellow colour. It was a privilege to live here with its private hospital, schools and amenities. But in return, tenants agreed to serve 20 years in the military.
Engman painted this street numerous times, each with a slightly different atmosphere. Predominantly, they’re night scenes, lit by lamps - with figures a rare occurrence. But here, we see four silhouettes punctuating the facade. This was an important place for him, one he returned to over and over, it represented something more than bricks and mortar, it grounded him. Like the comfort gained from a recurring dream about a friend you once knew.
On April 9 1940, Engman exhibited a controversial, highly antagonistic, collection of anti-nazi paintings. Visitors had only a few hours to view the works as shortly after, German forces advanced into Denmark, resulting in its occupation. In fear of capture, Engman fled to Sweden, together with his pregnant wife. And it was here that he produced the bulk of his deeply satirical works. In fierce opposition to the current state of his homeland, they’re dark, sarcastic, and underpinned by utter revulsion.
Following the war, he revisited this street. Again, painting it several times, almost as if he needed to prove that it still existed. The yellow walls, shimmering streetlamps, and towering oak tree - familiar elements for this complex mind.
This piece dates to around 1931.
Held within its original gilt frame.
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 24½” x 18” / 62cm x 45cm
Year of creation: c. 1931
Condition: Artwork presents well. Brush hairs embedded in the paint. Frame with some light wear.
Artist’s auction maximum: £23,240
Harald Engman was self-taught but his father is recorded as a painter. His works are held in several public collections including at the National Gallery of Denmark and Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg.
Learn more about Harald Engman in our directory.