Private collection, Denmark;
sale Brunn Rasmussen, Copenhagen, 1966, no. 84;
Private collection, Denmark until 2017
Of the generation of Danish artists that achieved fame after the so called “Golden Age” of the mid- nineteenth century, one of the most outstanding was the painter and poet Valdemar Irminger (fig. 1). He was born in Copenhagen and studied at that city’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts from 1867 to 1873. A scholarship in 1884 allowed him to spend three years in Italy. He returned to Denmark and in 1889 was awarded the Eckersberg Medal, named for Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853), “the father of Danish painting.” Irminger had a long career moving from an early realistic style to a more romantic one and producing a wide variety of works, including portraits, landscapes, genre subjects, depictions of soldiers and children, and many studies of animals, often with a sense of humor (figs. 2a-k). He exhibited in Munich and also in Paris, where at the 1900 Exposition Universelle he won a silver medal. From 1906 Irminger taught at the Royal Academy’s school for women and in 1908 married the painter-sculptor Ingeborg Plockross.
Like so many of his Danish compatriots (figs. 3a-c), Irminger painted a number of Self-Portraits. In 1883 he produced a rather stilted example of himself wearing a smock and with a bemused expression (fig. 4). He does not show himself with the tools of his trade and sets his half-figure against a white background. Done just a year later, the present example, probably painted before he left for Italy, is much more intense. Here in bust length, he presents himself in a direct manner, capturing his serious, intelligent regard of the viewer. The painterliness of the composition is conveyed by the very rough texture of the impasto-rich white background. This artist had a liking for isolated individuals (figs. 5a-c), and that same rough textured background also appears in several other early works (figs. 2f, 2i, and 6). A comparable approach is also found in portraits by his Danish contemporaries such as P. S. Krøyer, Olaf Rude and Peter Ilsted (figs. 7a-d). Moreover, in its Nordic whiteness this vivid portrait also corresponds and looks forward to the achievements of such other eminent Danish painters as Michael Ancher, Christian Mourier-Petersen, and especially Vilhelm Hammershøi (figs. 8a-d). This work, certainly one of the artist’s masterpieces, represents the highpoint of Irminger’s realism and provides a lasting testament to his skill.