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Peder Mønsted, Danish Delight

Peder Mønsted - En strøm gennem dal, rådyr i afstanden
A Stream and a Deer, 1905

Born December 10, 1859, Peder Mørk Mønsted was a Danish landscape painter from western Denmark. Popular throughout Europe and Africa throughout his career, Mønsted clearly established himself as Denmark's greatest landscape artist for his supreme technical abilities, strong compositions and meditative peacefulness. His brushwork varied from very loose and Impressionist to a neatly detailed attention that served to heighten the sensation of presence, in contrast to much Photorealism that would come decades later to merely mimic the camera with no personality whatsoever. Mønsted's love for the countryside and nature is so seductive it lures us into his world in a direct way that I haven't quite seen before in landscape art. There is an immediacy and simplicity to his work, a sense of standing in the grass and snow that is inviting. Most landscape work from the vedute painters of Italy right up to the English of the 19th century held a deep formality to their work that was often meant to overwhelm and impress the viewer or comment on the vanishing countryside with the vast popularization of cities. Mønsted shows us that nature is right in front of us, waiting to be discovered and when it has, to be savoured quietly. Moments are the medium of his art.

Just look at A Stream and a Deer above. Mønsted uses one-point perspective along with a luminous reflection of the trees to lead our eye across the stream to those warm pockets of sunshine and fauna in the distance. Note how in this composition Mønsted uses the natural slope of the stream bed and the trees to lead our eye from left to right, with light dappling in between the trees themselves. Up close the brushwork is actually quite loose, but it is Mønsted's use of light and value that is the real genius here. Note the warm greys Mønsted uses below the trees, and the very cool greys along the right edge of the stream. This is an absolutely beautiful painting, and probably one of his best.

Peder Mønsted - En visning af Borresö fra Himmelbjerget
A view of Borresö from Himmelbjerget, Denmark, 1912

Mønsted's use of broad daylight is extremely courageous here, as most landscape artists and photographers usually go to great lengths to avoid this kind of light for its flatness. However, the dramatic clouds scudding across the sky is captivating in the suggestion of a weather change and in Mønsted's palette of yellows and blue-greys, even greens in some areas. This reproduction here is inferior unfortunately but the sense of detail and grandeur cannot be mistaken.

Peder Mørk Mønsted - The Woodland Glade
The Woodland Glade, 1898

This vertical composition still carries a strong sense of space, depth and beautiful complementary colors. Mønsted also creates visual interest by varying the length, width, color and texture of the trees, using atmospheric perspective to its fullest example here. Look at how the main tree leans back slightly and how Mønsted uses soft cool shadows with the moss next to the white texture of the birch, leading our eye downward to the warm blanket of leaves on the ground. All great landscape art is an invitation, and this beautiful serenity is a place that anyone would feel at peace in. You can almost inhale that fresh autumn air.

Peder Mønsted - Skovbevoksede River Landskab
Wooded River Landscape, 1913

Another gorgeous sanctuary. Dream-like. Mønsted gives us the point of view that we are on a boat, moving quietly toward this sun-dappled pocket of nature. The reflections are what make this composition more appealing, and Mønsted even enhances the yellows in the greens reflected in the water. Note how the palette of the reflections in the river becomes warmer as the sunlight spills onto that central area. Mønsted uses very earthy reds yet glazes them with warm greens. Behind that, in the background the water turns very dark, a dark green that is framed by sunlit trees. Even more interesting area is the sky itself, which Mønsted mixes a very complex greenish white-grey that is also reflected in the foreground area of the river. Mønsted uses a looser brush in this painting yet the values reveal a very conscious effort to remain as accurate as possible. Again, the atmospheric perspective adds depth with the background trees fading behind into the distance, so subtle yet so important to the feeling of depth. This would definitely be a painting to see in person.

Peder Mønsted - Sneklædte skovvej i sollys (1908)
Snowy forest road in sunlight,1908

A rather uninteresting composition, but Mønsted creates presence here. This is a fairly large painting (120 × 200 cm (47.2 × 78.7 in)) which definitely creates presence. Mønsted's motif of making nature itself the subject, with people in the background as tiny and insignificant, used for scale, is not a new device but the way Mønsted uses it seems so. Two children play in the background, one pulling the other on a sled and yet this is not the story. The scene itself is the story. Mønsted's palette here is one of his most complex, as white is not the easiest color to mix, especially snow in late afternoon. The blueish-greys of the long shadows falling across the snow is fairly straightforward, but note how Mønsted varies the edges of those shadows. And how he places very faint warm violet shadows next to them. And the illusion of a shovelled sidewalk is also superb. If you look carefully, you can even see how Mønsted scumbles pure white in certain areas to create the illusion of snow twinkling in the sunlight. Why Mønsted uses bright green in the foreground trees is a peculiar choice, yet it works visually and also hints symbolically at the promise of Spring. Again, Mønsted varies the angles of the foreground trees, and one is an actual stump with jagged edges. Those soft shadows falling across the trees and his indication of texture is breathtaking, as usual. The atmospheric perspective of the warm bare branches also hints at the arrival of Spring.

Mønsted is more than just a mere landscape painter. His work is a visual meditation. He reminds us of how important nature is in our lives and how we are a part of it, a message that is very relevant in our digital age of burying our faces in our cellphones. This is what we need to be burying our faces in.


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