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History of artists' lives gives greater context for exhibit

Published: Sunday, July 5 2015 1:34 p.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.

"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler" by Heinrich Hofmann. (Provided by BYU Museum of Art)

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."

Frans Schwartz's Frans Schwartz's "Agony in the Garden," an oil on canvas painting. (Provided by BYU Museum of Art)

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."

Self portrait of Danish artist Carl Bloch. (Provided by BYU Museum of Art) Self portrait of Danish artist Carl Bloch. (Provided by BYU Museum of Art)

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

Born in 1824 in Darmstadt, Germany, Hofmann knew from a young age that he wanted to be an artist, and growing up in an artistic home helped his talents flourish. Hofmann's mother taught drawing classes, and his father was a painter. Both parents were supportive of his studying the arts.

"Hofmann grew up watching his parents paint," said Ann Lambson, head of education for BYU's Museum of Art. "His father's paintings … formed one of (Hofmann's) most cherished recollection of the arts."

The oldest of four boys, Hofmann was encouraged and nurtured in the importance of the arts and given time to use a paintbrush and to draw, allowing him to dabble and find his personal style.

He began a formal study of art, and in 1842 began his study in master classes. From there, Hofmann traveled through Europe to study the classical works of art. He later studied at Dusseldorf Academy in Germany and went on to become a teacher at Dresden in 1870.

Hofmann, who became known for his religious paintings, was asked if he used a model for the image of Christ because he painted the life of the Savior so often.

"When I read about Christ in the Bible, there arises spontaneously before my fancy a picture of him which I try to retain and reproduce — that is my only prototype," Hofmann said, according to Lambson.

Frans Schwartz

Schwartz was born in 1850 in Copenhagen to a family that owned a successful and prominent wood-turning business.

Schwartz, who had a passion for art, attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1866 at the age of 16. While there, he earned a gold medal for a painting titled "Job and His Friends." Though the painting has been lost, it helped launch his career.

In addition to his love of the arts, Schwartz founded a group named KWIMS — from the initials of the founders — a group of intellectuals that included a chemist, an author, an artist and others.

Schwartz traveled to Spain in 1878 to study painting.

Pheysey described Schwartz as a very eccentric man but very generous. He never married, and after his death in 1917 left money to the city of Copenhagen in the form of a scholarship fund, making it possible for artistic decoration of public buildings.

As Schwartz was independently wealthy, he never painted for monetary gain. When asked about his endeavors on altar paintings, Pheysey said Schwartz completed the works because he wanted to.

At his funeral, Pheysey said, the priest who spoke said that his art was divinely endowed and seemed worthier than many a sermon.

Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: ebuchanan@deseretnews.com or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock

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