History of artists' lives gives greater context for exhibit

Published: Sunday, Sept. 29 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

"Christ in the Temple" by Heinrich Hofmann.

Provided by BYU Museum of Art

Editor's note: This article is part of a series for the upcoming BYU Museum of Art exhibit, "The Religious Art of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann and Frans Schwartz," which runs from Nov. 15 to May 10, 2014. For more information, visit sacredgifts.byu.edu.

While the lives of three prominent 19th-century artists may only be indirectly intertwined, their masterpiece paintings will combine to create the newest exhibit at Brigham Young University's Museum of Art.

Starting Nov. 15, patrons visiting the exhibit "Sacred Gifts: The Religious Art of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann, and Frans Schwartz," will have the opportunity to view the life of Christ through paintings, many of which have not been shown since before World War II.

While the works of art themselves are considered to be a great gift to the museum, according to head curator Dawn Pheysey, the academic and professional life of each painter has proven to be an additional gift.

A look at the lives of these three men offers added insight into the depth and magnitude of their art, which has lasted more than a century.

Carl Bloch

Bloch, who was born in 1834 to a middle-class family in Copenhagen, Denmark, first desired to become a naval cadet because he thought it sounded like fun. And coming from a family with nine other siblings, all of whom had professional careers, there was an expectation for him to do well.

It was while he was enrolled in 1845 in Mariboes school, a preparatory school for the naval academy, that Bloch discovered his true passion — art.

"He started drawing all the time," Pheysey said in a BYU Education Week presentation. "He became so obsessed that he didn't do well in other classes. He would pretend to read his schoolbooks, but he would have paper and be drawing images inside the book instead."

Bloch's passion for art dismayed his mother, who, Pheysey said, thought Bloch would never be able to provide for a family or make a living.

Pheysey told a story of Bloch and his mother walking near a homeless man sitting on the side of the road. Bloch's mother looked at her son and told him that he would face the same fate if he wanted to become an artist.

Despite the lack of support from his family, his determination led to his enrollment in the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen when he was 15. Bloch thrived, receiving recognition and awards.

"The academy wasn't something you went through in four years," Pheysey said. "It was a life commitment. You had to be really committed. You were working all day and all night drawing."

In 1859, after several years at the academy, Bloch received a traveling scholarship to Italy and continued his studies. While abroad, he began painting large history paintings — ranging from historical and biblical events to mythology — all of which brought him national acclaim.

After making a name for himself, Bloch received a commission to paint 23 scenes from the life of Christ for the Frederiksborg Castle near Copenhagen.

Pheysey said Bloch had a strong faith in God and relied heavily on his creator.

"God helps me — that's what I think and then I am calm," Pheysey quoted Bloch as saying.

It was perhaps Bloch's faith, combined with his skill shown in the Life of Christ series, that led to his being known as the "painter of Christ."

Bloch went on to receive additional commissions to paint and eventually became a professor at the Royal Academy of Art.

Heinrich Hofmann

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