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The Old Sailor. Etching. 19 x 15.5 cm. 1836. Heller-Andresen 3; J. Styhr. Dansk Grafik. Copenhagen 1949, pp. 34–37 with illustration.
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Although he died young, Christen Købke was one of the outstanding artists in the Golden Age of Danish painting. A pupil of Eckersberg, he developed his own progressive interpretation of landscape, the hallmarks of which are a great originality of composition and a remarkably delicate rendering of light and atmosphere. As a portrait painter, too, Købke was regarded as one of the outstandingly talented artists of his time. The frequently small-size portraits he made in the early 1830s of members of his immediate family, fellow artists and friends are astonishing for their often ruthless realism and incisive psychological characterisation. From 1831 onwards Købke produced a modest and rare printed oeuvre consisting largely of reproductions of his own paintings.
The masterfully etched portrait of an old sailor is modelled on a painting the artist made in 1832. Despite the limitations of the black-and-white medium, this small portrait exerts a tremendous impact. Employing a wonderfully subtle and differentiated etching technique, the artist has meticulously detailed every fold and furrow on the man’s face, which has been tanned by the wind and the salty sea air. He stares at the beholder with a probing, suspicious gaze, his facial expression a testimony to the hardship and privations of his working life.
A superb, harmonious and contrasting impression, trimmed to the platemark, with a thread margin on the right. Minor defects in the margins, otherwise in very fine condition.