At the start of the First World War, Hans Andersen Brendekilde (1857–1942) was in the process of divorcing his first wife, Ida Juliane Antonie Brendekilde (1860–1920), and in the midst of an affair with his favourite model, Maren Kristine Hansen (1872–1956), whom he married in 1918. Hansen had been the family’s nanny, and had modelled in that role in his painting Springtime; The First Anemones (1889).
Other than that, we know that he travelled to Italy, where he painted, in 1922-23, and that he died in Jyllinge, not far from Roskilde on Sjælland (Zealand), on 30 March 1942, when he was nearly 85 years old.
Remarkably few of his paintings remain accessible to account for those twenty-seven years. Most are rural genre paintings, like Home for Dinner from 1917. A young girl stands talking to a man, who could be her father, but with a bushy white beard he would seem rather old for that. He holds a spade, she half a dozen fresh fish and a large parcel wrapped in brown paper.
The source of the fish is not revealed, but the implication from the title is that they will form the family’s main meal that night. On the right side of the painting is a well-worked vegetable plot containing a couple of very large marrows. In the distance is a thatched cottage, where presumably the two live.
The following year, Brendekilde painted a rather simpler gardening story, in Afternoon Work (1918). A younger man is out on his finely-tilled vegetable patch in front of his cottage. Standing just outside the door, behind him, is his young daughter, and through the window is an older woman, presumably his wife. Both are watching him intently, with an air of fear at what he is about to do.
The man looks as if he is about to attack a small crop of molehills which have appeared freshly in the midst of his seedling vegetable plants. He is oblivious to the fact that gardeners seldom, if ever, get the better of a determined mole.
Two Children in a Village Street from 1921 shows two young girls, with a toddler playing behind them, in a backstreet of a village somewhere in the Danish countryside. One of the girls is on an errand, carrying a flask to get some milk; they appear to have stopped simply to talk.
If Brendekilde intended any social comment, it may be subtly hidden in the girls’ feet: one wears old shoes, the other none at all. But the sun is out, a rose in flower against the wall, and the world seems at peace.
For once, a couple of Brendekilde’s paintings from Italy have not only survived, but are accessible still. A Fountain in Rome from 1922 is an accomplished plein air oil sketch of one of the many fountains in Rome, this apparently tucked away in some gardens.
Summer Day in Villa Borghese in Rome (1922) shows this large public park, which was originally landscaped in ‘English style’ from a former vineyard. It was bought by the city and made properly public in 1903, and has since hosted many events, including part of the 1960 Olympic Games.
The nearby Villa Medici is thought to have been the birthplace of plein air oil painting, in Diego Velázquez’ View of the Garden of the Villa Medici of about 1630.
It may be that Brendekilde retired from professional painting after that last trip to Italy. One last painting of his which has survived is this Portrait of the Artist’s Nephew Nils from 1928. The subject’s sailor’s rig may indicate that he was a boy sailor at the time, but such dress was also commonly worn by teenagers of the day.
My last painting of Brendekilde’s is his undated Country Road with Flowering Lilacs and Golden Rains, which is perhaps the most fitting end to his career, as a man walks away along an unmade country road, his dog following behind.
Tomorrow I will look at the last years of LA Ring’s work over the same period.