SHEPHERD W & K GALLERIES European Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture
ABILDGAARD, Nicolai Abraham   
18th Century

STUDY OF NUDE YOUTH AND CLOTHED MATURE MAN, circa 1790

Dimensions: 5 3/4” x 5 3/4” (14.6 x 14.6 cm)

The present study reflects Abildgaard’s training and study of ancient and Renaissance art. During the five years he spent in Rome, he met Swiss painter Johann Heinrich Fuseli. The quintessential neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David, who was also in Rome, certainly influenced him as well. Abildgaard’s interest in neoclassicism extended beyond history painting. For his personal use, he designed furniture modeled with archaeological accuracy after the furniture depicted on fifth-century B.C. Greek vases. He also amassed an extensive private library. His learned environment lent him the appearance of a peintre-philosophe of the European Enlightenment. As the last great Danish history painter, Abildgaard’s subjects largely focused on scenes from antiquity, Shakespeare, Danish mythology, and the false Scottish bard Ossian. After his return to Copenhagen, he became professor at the Academy (which now houses his private library). His two most prominent students were Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg and Bertel Thorvaldsen, who assisted Abildgaard in decorating the Amalienborg palace. Among Abildgaard’s best-known works are his ten large-scale paintings for Christiansborg Slot, the royal palace in Copenhagen. The palace burned in 1794; only three of the ten paintings survived. References: Per Kirkeby, Abildgaard (Hellerup [Denmark], 2003). Patrick Kragelund, Abildgaard: kunstneren mellem oprørerne, 2 vols. (Copenhagen, 1999). Kasper Monrad, Danish Painting: The Golden Age (London, 1984), p. 87. Hans Edvard Nørregård-Nielsen, The Golden Age of Danish Art (Alexandria, VA, 1995), p. 89. Nancy L. Pressly, The Fuseli Circle in Rome: Early Romantic Art of the 1770s (New Haven, 1979), pp. 64-6.