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Josef Theodor Hansen

(1848 Randers – 1912 Copenhagen)

View of an Ancient Peristyle in Pompeii. Oil on canvas, mounted on cardboard. 46.3 x 37.8 cm. “Heiberg” inscribed on the verso and “Heiberg Classensgade 13 [...]” on an adhesive label.

From the middle of the 18th century Pompeii and its archaeological excavation sites became a place of pilgrimage for artists and architects alike. Artists on the Grand Tour frequently spent lengthy periods in the city, which was buried under ashes after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. Josef Theodor Hansen, a painter from Denmark, travelled extensively through Italy and Greece in 1882/83. Various oil sketches and paintings, executed in detail at a later date, confirm that Pompeii formed part of his itinerary. The highly realistic rendering of an ancient peristyle, in which the surfaces of the weathered columns and masonry are reproduced with almost photographic precision, and the strong emphasis on perspective are stylistic characteristics which point to Josef Theodor Hansen as the author of the present work. 

Hansen, a painter and illustrator, came from a family of tailors who lived in East Jutland. Initially trained as a master painter by his uncle, he subsequently underwent an apprenticeship before moving to Copenhagen, where he combined work as a decoration painter in a terracotta manufactory with studies at the Royal Danish Academy. After completing the latter, Hansen went on numerous trips throughout Europe, during which he visited Greece, Italy, Spain and France. Like many other Danish artists of his time, Hansen decided to study at the prestigious private academy run by the French painter, Léon Bonnat, in Paris, which he attended in 1881/82. His technically brilliant architectural paintings subsequently earned him considerable renown at the Copenhagen Academy exhibitions in Charlottenborg. When Hansen died in 1912, people flocked to attend the funeral ceremony at the Garrison Church in Copenhagen where he was buried. 

The label on the verso would indicate that the present oil study belonged to Johan Ludvig Heiberg (1854–1928), a philologist and mathematical historian who was also a prominent collector of Danish paintings. 

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