Col­lect­ing THOR­VALD­SEN

An­tique copies of Ber­tel Thor­vald­sen’s small- scale works are pop­u­lar amongst con­nois­seurs of neo­clas­si­cal art, while mod­ern repli­cas are avail­able for ad­mir­ers on more mod­est bud­gets

Homes and Antiques Magazine - - LIFESTYLE : HOMES -

At H&A we were in­trigued by John and Gabrielle Sut­cli e’s four plas­ter repli­cas of re­lief roundels by neo­clas­si­cal sculp­tor Ber­tel Thor­vald­sen (page 78).

One of Den­mark’s highly cel­e­brated artists, Ber­tel Thor­vald­sen en­joyed world­wide recog­ni­tion dur­ing his life­time as one of the most gifted por­trait sculp­tors of his gen­er­a­tion. Although still much ad­mired in his home coun­try (where there is a mu­seum ded­i­cated to his life and work) Thor­vald­sen’s fame else­where has waned. Out­side Den­mark, the sculp­tor is prob­a­bly best known for his minia­ture re­lief pan­els of bib­li­cal and clas­si­cal scenes; casts and copies of which re­main highly col­lectable, whether made while he was alive or much later, such as the ex­am­ples hanging in the Sut­cli es’ hall.

Born in 1770 in Copen­hagen to Ice­landic im­mi­grants, Thor­vald­sen’s begin­nings were sur­pris­ingly hum­ble given his later suc­cess. His fa­ther earned a liv­ing as a wood carver, sculpt­ing the dec­o­ra­tive de­tails that adorned mer­chant ships, and it was from him that Ber­tel first learned to sculpt. It soon be­came clear that he was unusu­ally tal­ented, and at just 11 years old he was ad­mit­ted to The Royal Dan­ish Academy of Art.

Within six years, Thor­vald­sen had won a stipend to travel to Rome in or­der to con­tinue his ed­u­ca­tion. It was there that he sealed his rep­u­ta­tion as a sculp­tor of note, at­tract­ing praise from Antonio Canova, the most im­por­tant sculp­tor of the day.

Thor­vald­sen quickly es­tab­lished a large work­shop in Rome and was soon re­ceiv­ing com­mis­sions from all over Europe. He re­mained in Italy for 40 years, and dur­ing that time he pro­duced a large body of work in­clud­ing por­trait busts, full-size fig­ures, re­lief pan­els and roundels.

Night and Day (1815) are now two of his best-known works, based on the writ­ings of the Greek trav­eller and ge­og­ra­pher Pau­sa­nias (AD 143– 176). The two roundels, de­signed to be dis­played to­gether, were so pop­u­lar in their time that

Thor­vald­sen him­self made sev­eral ver­sions in­clud­ing pan­els for the 6th Duke of Devon­shire. Other copies made at var­i­ous times over the last two cen­turies, in mar­ble, bronze and plas­ter, hang in mu­se­ums and pri­vate col­lec­tions across Europe. The orig­i­nals are placed op­po­site one an­other in the Thor­vald­sen Mu­seum in Copen­hagen.

While the orig­i­nals of Thor­vald­sen’s works rarely make their way onto the open mar­ket, repli­cas of his re­lief pan­els do come up at auc­tion from time to time. Prices re­flect the age, prove­nance and qual­ity of the pieces. In July 2016, Night and Day, carved in ivory and at­trib­uted to Ben­jamin Chev­er­ton (1794–1876) sold at Sotheby’s for £10,000. How­ever, it’s not nec­es­sary to have a huge bank bal­ance – good qual­ity, mod­ern plas­ter repli­cas from com­pa­nies such as Mod­ern Sou­venir in Bath are avail­able for as lit­tle as £30. Q

The Thor­vald­sen Mu­seum in Copen­hagen not only con­tains a large num­ber of the artist’s works, in­clud­ing his pre­lim­i­nary sketches and ma­que­ttes, but also his per­sonal col­lec­tion of clas­si­cal paint­ings and sculp­tures. Ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Thor­vald­sen’s work along­side the art that in­spired him gives a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the artist’s life. His works can also be seen at the Lou­vre, the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum, and The Fitzwilliam Mu­seum, Cam­bridge. Do check works are on dis­play be­fore plan­ning your visit.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFTAu­tumn, part of a set of four, $ 3,800, Ti­mothy Cor­ri­gan; Day and Night c1825, brass re­poussé, £1,449.85, for the pair, Acro­te­rion at 1st Dibs; roundel 5 de­pict­ing Win­ter, £ 222, Amiska

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