With support from the New Carlsberg Foundation, the Hirschsprung Collection has acquired the painting Blå vifte ved en grøn kande med blomstrende æblegren (Blue fan beside a green jug with flowering apple branches). With seven paintings, Bertha Wegmann (1846–1926) is already well represented at the museum, and with this recent donation, the first still life has now been added to the collection.

Still life with a Japanese touch

For its genre, Blå vifte ved en grøn kande med blomstrende æblegren is a relatively big picture (56 x 69 cm). With the clear and, in places, loose brushstrokes, the painting reflects Wegmann’s ongoing dialogue with French impressionism, while the selection of objects in the picture point to the prevailing Japanese influence, or Japonisme, in Western art. A half-opened turquoise blue fan sits brightly in the centre of the image, striking a distinct contrast to the dark background. Balanced upright on the table, the fan almost seems to defy gravity, allowing Wegmann to play with the interplay of light and shadow in and around the folds of the fan. Next to the fan, some flowering apple branches are arranged in a dark green vase that – unlike both the flowers and the fan – subtly blends into the dark background. A single branch, heavy with flowers, has toppled out of the vase and lies in front of the fan as a beautiful disturbance of the balanced composition. Perhaps Wegmann’s original treatment of the vanitas theme, a reminder of the inevitability of decay in the midst of beauty.

Sought-after portrait painter recedes into oblivion

As a leading portrait painter of Danish realism, Wegmann was one of the few female artists who achieved both acclaim and success during her own lifetime. When P. S. Krøyer passed away in 1909, she was unrivalled in her field. However, portraiture was not the only genre Wegmann pursued. The Hirschsprung Collection thus also includes examples of Wegmann’s urban scenes and landscapes as well as, now, her still lifes.

This broad scope and her contemporary recognition notwithstanding, Wegmann, like many of her female colleagues, has been underrecognized in recent art history. Her artistic practice and oeuvre have received limited research interest, and so in recent years, the Hirschsprung Collection has led a targeted effort to reinstate her to her rightful place in Danish art history. As part of this effort, the museum has acquired no fewer than five pieces by Wegmann since 2017, and in 2021 the museum is planning to show a major exhibition about her in collaboration with Waldemarsudde in Stockholm.