PROVO — The theme of sacred gifts in the upcoming Brigham Young University Museum of Art exhibit, "Sacred Gifts: The Religious Art of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann, and Frans Schwartz" runs deep for museum guests and officials alike.
This exhibit, slated for a Nov. 15 opening, is a completion of the 2010 exhibit, "Carl Bloch: The Master's Hand." The upcoming exhibit will feature all new art, coming from churches and museums from Denmark, Sweden, Germany and New York.
"Sacred Gifts has a different purpose," said BYU Museum of Art head curator Dawn Pheysey. "As we began looking at the paintings and artists we wanted to include in this exhibition, we realized the art and the message of the exhibition itself was really the result of gifts of many kinds."
From the magnification of the artists' God-given talents to the generous donations making the free exhibit possible, Pheysey said the concept of gifts has been all-encompassing.
Talent of the artists
The three artists featured in the upcoming show, Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann and Frans Schwartz, represent three of the most talented and prolific painters of the 19th century.
Each artist emerged from childhood with an artistic influence and passion — one that continued to be fostered and refined in later years.
"They all have the spark from their youth of artistic talent and how they developed that in a time when it was the strongest time to be a painter in an academy," said Ashlee Whitaker, religious art curator for the BYU Museum of Art. "That enabled them to create these marvelous paintings."
Magnification through schooling
"People who are inclined toward art already have what we would say is a God-given gift," said Mark Magleby, director of the BYU Museum of Art. "But they have to amplify and magnify it and that is done through academic training."
In the 19th century, in order to be recognized as a skilled craftsman, aspiring artists such as Bloch, Hofmann or Schwartz had to complete their studies at an academy.
This was a greater commitment than a modern-day university, Pheysey said, as many artists would spend years of their lives refining their skills. Bloch spent several years studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark, before studying abroad in Italy.
Most artists began their formal training around age 15, though some started as young as age 10.
Classes included perspective, geometry, math, history, world history, biblical history and mythology. A well-rounded curriculum aided the artists in the various paintings they were commissioned to do.
Academy students worked from 7 in the morning until well into the night, six days a week. Most of the art they produced was drawings. Paintings came in later, more advanced stages when working with a particular professor.
And an academic training continues to stand the test of time, Magleby said.
"We have visited (cultures with strong academies) and have talked to professors who are a part of the ongoing tradition of academic training. Even though they acknowledge all of the subsequent art movements and the kind of work they want their students to be trained in, they still have a strong academic training basis."
Gift of churches and museums
In order to make the dream of showing 20 19th-century paintings in Provo a reality, BYU Museum of Art curators had to rely heavily on the gifts of other museums and churches.
"We began going over to Denmark every year and building relationships with people there in the churches," Pheysey said.
That friendship paved the way for what Pheysey called some presumptuous requests — four altar paintings, the centerpieces of many churches, and eight paintings from the Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark.
These requests can be deeply felt by the congregations of the churches, as it means their main altarpieces are then removed from their regular worship, Pheysey said.
"And so we ask, and it sinks in for a minute and we tell them about the 306,000 people who came to the last show and how they lined up, and how there were throngs dying to see these works," Magleby said. "And they think, 'We love these works,' but then their altruistic feelings take over and they say, 'We'd like to share them with all of those people.’ ”
Ten locations offered their paintings for BYU's exhibit, including the Frederiksborg Castle in Denmark, which will loan eight paintings — four at a time — from the King's Oratory from Bloch's Life of Christ series.
"These paintings have never before been out of the Oratory since they were installed (in the 1860s and 1870s) … and they will not be loaned again," castle director Mette Skougaard said in a press release.
Four paintings from Bloch's greatest commissioned work will be on display for the first half of the exhibit, and will then be switched out with four different Life of Christ paintings for the second half. Pheysey encourages patrons to come multiple times to see all the paintings offered during the exhibit.
"We have a tremendous gift because we are totally funded by philanthropies, by donors," Magleby said.
Because of the generosity of museum donors, "Sacred Gifts" will be open to the public for free. All patrons can reserve their free tickets online before attending the event.
The cost of an event like this makes the generous donations all the more appreciated, Magleby said.
One altarpiece alone, taking into consideration the cost of conservation, shipping and insurance, could likely surpass $100,000, Magleby said. "Sacred Gifts" will feature six altar paintings.
Though the event is free, museum officials hope that those who are inspired by the exhibit will donate an amount they feel is appropriate.
"We are grateful for our donors, but we would like to create a way for our patrons to give back to the people, the churches and the museums that have made all of this possible," Pheysey said.
Donations can be made at the exhibit and online at the BYU Museum of Art's website.
But the crowning gift, Pheysey said, is the ultimate gift of the Savior, Jesus Christ, to whom all the paintings pay tribute.
"The ultimate gift is, of course, centered in the notion that Christ is the source of all creation and all creativity and that he paid the ultimate price for our salvation," Magleby said.
All three of these artists were devoutly religious men who felt a strong connection with their Savior, Magleby said.
"These artists in their own way and in their own time from their own faith point of view also felt that (ultimate gift)," he said. "You cannot look at these works without a sense of (the artists) knowing of whom they represent. It is a great privilege to be reminded in the midst of all this gifting of the superlative gift of the Savior," he said.
"Sacred Gifts: The Religious Art of Carl Bloch, Heinrich Hofmann, and Frans Schwartz" opens Nov. 15 and will run through May 10, 2014.
Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is a writer for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock
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