Eventually, four churches agreed to let the museum borrow their altarpieces, but "up until summer of 2009, we didn't know if we'd have enough to put together a show," Pheysey says.
Some of the churches had large prints made to use while their altarpiece was gone; one held a contest among local art students to create an interim work of art. "The winner was a 15-year-old girl."
They are proud and happy that someone else is taking such an interest in their art, Pheysey says. "A lot of the churches with copies of Bloch's art had been replacing them with something more contemporary. But now some are re-thinking that. Bloch was not highly acclaimed at the end of his life. His paintings were deemed outdated and old-fashioned. But now a lot of people are taking another look at Bloch," she says.
And they are finding much of value, she adds. From an artistic standpoint, "his careful observation and attention to detail provided the qualities necessary to make him a great genre and portrait painter," says Pheysey. But the paintings are about more than art. "It was his tender and sensitive soul that defined his ability to portray the plights of others with kind consideration, and his deep-seated faith that enabled him to render compelling images of the Savior with devotion and love."
The Savior portrayed by Carl Bloch is strong and powerful and very masculine, she says. "Yet he is also compassionate. To get both of those in the same figure is something you don't always see."
According to museum director Campbell Gray, "Bloch's works illuminate the life and mission of the Savior with extraordinary power and insight. His paintings affirm Christ's mission of salvation and, at the same time, challenge the viewer to make the tough choices that bespeak a living faith."
Viewers who come to the exhibition will not just see the paintings, they will experience them, says museum spokesman Christopher Wilson. The museum has re-configured the Main Gallery to create the feeling of entering a church-like space. A four-minute orientation film introduces the artist and his native land, with scenes of cities, forests, fields and seascape.
The altarpieces have been set into re-creations of their church settings. Instead of benches, wicker chairs similar to those used in Danish Lutheran churches are set up in front of each for those who want to sit and ponder. "There is so much to see in each one," says Pheysey. "You can look and look and see something new each time."
Because it was impossible to bring in any of the Frederiksborg Castle paintings — they are actually a part of the structure — one gallery projects some of those views onto some castle-like walls.
Other paintings and etchings are displayed; there's also a case showing how the church has used some of Bloch's images.
For an even more interactive experience, patrons can rent an iPad for $3 that is pre-loaded with an app with "multiple segments that contextualize the paintings by showing their original locations in Denmark, explain the nuances of each work within its Biblical setting, and educate viewers about specific artistic techniques and their significance," says Wilson.
It is truly a one-of-kind experience, he says. "This is the first time the altarpieces have ever come out of the churches, ever been together in the same room. They will be here for a short time and then gone."
And at the end, perhaps you will agree with 19th-century Danish art critic Karl Madsen, who noted that Bloch "reached higher toward the great heaven of art" than anyone else.
"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!"
If you go ...
What: Carl Bloch: The Master's Hand
Where: BYU Museum of Art
When: Nov. 12-Mar 7, 2011; extended hours are Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Admission: Free, however visitors must register for tickets online before their visit at CarlBloch.byu.edu.
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