Artist: Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)
Awards & Honors:
Positions & Appointments:
Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890)The celebrated Danish painter, Carl Heinrich Bloch, was born on May 23, 1834, in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was the son of merchant Joergen Peter Bloch and Ida Emilie Ulrikke Henriette Weitzmann Bloch.
Bloch's parents wanted their son to enter a respectable profession - an officer in the Navy. This, however, was not what Carl wanted. His only interest was drawing and painting, and he was consumed by the idea of becoming an artist.
In January 1849, Carl Bloch's parents gave-in to the pressure and allowed him to draw in his spare time in the evenings at the Royal Danish Academy of Art.
In 1852 Bloch was awarded a small silver medal for one of his drawings, which was exhibited the following year at the Academy.
In 1853 he went on his first study-trip to Jyderup, Denmark, where his artistic progress, during this period in his life, placed him on the "correct side" within the art society. Although Carl Bloch definitely had "The European Touch," he was reckoned among "The Nationales" with Marstrand - Constantin Hansen - Roed - P.C. Skovgaard - Sonne - Dalsgaard and Kyhn - who were all part of "The Eckersberg-Tradition."
In 1855, Bloch joined the Royal Danish Academy of Art, where on August 1, 1859 he received a travel grant. Bloch used this grant to go to Holland, France and Italy with his best friend and fellow artist, Anton Dorph.
Here, Bloch's love and admiration for Rembrandt further developed, and the old Master became a major driving force in Bloch's development as an artist.
Carl then headed for Rome, which served as his "home base" until 1865. Here the works of the Old Italian masters greatly influenced him, and he produced stunning works of art during his time in Italy.
Carl Bloch was a genre painter, and his Italian genre and folklore paintings created a great interest in him. His popularity grew very fast.
Notwithstanding, Bloch became one of Europe's finest portrait painters. In 1888 he received the highest honor an artist could receive. He was asked to paint his self-portrait that was to be hung at the Uffizi in Florence, Italy.
After seeing many of Bloch paintings that were coming out of Italy, the Danish maecenas of the time, brewer J. C. Jacobsen, commissioned Bloch to paint 23 new paintings for the King's Praying Chamber in the newly restored Frederiksborg Castle Chapel (which was ravaged by fire in 1859). This commission came toward the end of Bloch's time in Italy.
The assignment of this commission was to illustrate the life of Christ, and Bloch worked on this monumental project for nearly fourteen years.
The commission to paint the 23 paintings for The Praying Chamber changed not only Carl Bloch's personal life but also his artistic legacy.
Today, some have recognized Carl Bloch as perhaps the greatest artist ever to interpret the life and death of Christ. Contemporary artists, working with this difficult subject, pay tribute to the old master.
Of his historic motifs, two stand out as especially imposing. One is the painting depicting the dying Chancellor, Niels Kaas, calling the young Christian IV to his bedside in order to hand over to him the keys to the vault of Copenhagen Castle where the royal regalia were stored (1880). The other is the painting of the Danish King, Christian II, and his servant, imprisoned for life in the sealed tower at Soenderborg Castle. Both works are part of the collection at The National Historic Museum at Frederiksborg Castle. These masterpieces would hold their own next to the world's most celebrated paintings.
Carl Bloch also excelled through his etchings. Here, he perfected the artist's eternal pursuit of his most difficult task, the mastering of light. Another reason for Bloch to turn to the art of etching was his and Rembrandt's view of Christ as the suffering Savior. To Bloch, the art of etching was a sublime tool in showing these strong and pain-stricken emotions.
The art of etching found its true Master. For more than a century Bloch's 78 etchings have been sold out and very difficult to find. It was said of his etchings that they are filled with wonderful poetry, and it was also stated that "No other Danish artist has given us so many great etchings as Carl Bloch" (Sigurd Moeller).
Carl Bloch met his beloved wife, Alma Trepka, in Rome, where he married her in May 1868. They had a very happy and prosperous life together until her early death in January 1886.
The sorrow over losing his wife weighed heavily on Bloch, and being left alone with their eight children after her death was very difficult for him.
In a New Years letter from 1866 to Bloch, H. C. Andersen wrote the following: "What God has arched on solid rock will not be swept away!" Another letter from Andersen declared "Through your art you add a new step to your Jacob-ladder into immortality."
In a final ode, from a famous author to a famous artist, H.C. Andersen said "Write on the canvas; write your seal on immortality. Then you will become noble here on earth."
Now, more than a hundred years after Carl Bloch's death, young artists from all over the world, attempting to illustrate the life and death of Christ, make pilgrimage to Frederiksborg Castle to study the great Master.
Carl Bloch's focus on Danish historical events and stories of the Bible gave him great stature.
Bloch was recognized and respected already in his own lifetime. In 1879, the Danish newspaper, "Illustreret Tidende," stated that "Bloch had a profound impact on the art in his time." In 1881, Sigurd Mueller, a leading Danish art critic, said that "A Master [Carl Bloch] has stepped forward and has shown the way to help the audience understand art."
Before his early death from stomach cancer, Bloch served as a professor at the Royal Academy of Art (1883) and later as Vice-director. He was also given the title of "Councilor of State," and was decorated with "The Cross of an Order of Chivalry" and "The Medal of the Dannebrogmen."
Besides his religious masterpieces, many of his beautiful genre-and portrait paintings are exhibited in the Frederiksborg Castle, Denmark.
The 23 paintings for the King's Praying Chamber in Frederiksborg Castle Chapel made Carl Bloch the apparent choice for painting alter pieces. He painted 8 altarpieces, and considered these to be among his best.
The altarpieces can be found at Holbaek, Odense, Ugerloese and Copenhagen in Denmark, as well as Loederup, Hoerup, and Landskrona in Sweden.
Through the assistance of Danish born artist Soren Edsberg, the acquisition of "Christ heeling at the pool of Bethesda," [formerly owned by Indre Mission , Copenhagen, Denmark], was recently made possible for The Museum of Art, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, U.S.A.
Carl Bloch died of cancer on February 22, 1890. His death came as "an abrupt blow for Nordic art" according to an article by Sophus Michaelis. Michaelis stated that "Denmark has lost the artist that indisputably was the greatest among the living." Kyhn stated in his eulogy at Carl Bloch's funeral that "Bloch stays and lives."
A prominent Danish art critic, Karl Madsen, stated that Carl Bloch reached higher toward the great heaven of art than all other Danish art up to that date. Madsen also said "If there is an Elysium, where the giant, rich, warm and noble artist souls meet, there Carl Bloch will sit among the noblest of them all!"