This bite-sized display of around 40 paintings by 17th century Danish painter Christen Købke offers an accessible and contextualised perspective on his work. In the face of the National Galleries’ other blockbusting survey exhibits, which soar and sweep through impressionism and surrealism, trawling through hundreds of artists, opinions, offshoots and undercurrents, it is a real treat to devour a show as singular as this.
A contemporary of celebrated writer Hans Christian Anderson and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, although now nationally revered, Købke enjoyed little recognition during his lifetime. Accordingly, this historical tack not only acknowledges that the artist’s ideas were synonymous with the Golden Danish Age, but the greatness of the artist’s ahead-of-his-time outlook. Far too modern for his own good, Købke’s fine draughtmanship, his ability to find an ideal in the ordinariness of the real, and commitment to exploring alternative painterly perspectives, demark the individuality of this now-significant Danish figure.
As with other historical hangs of work, it is difficult to tune-out from all-knowing accompanying labels and over-arching personal narratives. However, these pastoral scenes, portraits and surprising depictions of national monuments draw the viewer in for a close examination of deftly manipulated detail and a rendering of warm light entirely unknown to most UK audiences. Poised and oddly off-centre, although it utterly makes sense, it is difficult to accept that he painted only from nature, and this is where Købke’s brilliance lies: in his timeless ability to animate everyday subjects with an otherworldly substance.
National Galleries Complex, Edinburgh, until Sun 3 Oct