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Vilhelm Nicolai Marstrand

(1810–1873, Copenhagen)

Cupid with Bow and Arrow, Sitting on the Back of a Lion. Pen and brown ink over a preliminary drawing in pencil. 34.6 x 38.3 cm. Circa 1836–39.

With light, masterful strokes of the pen Marstrand has sketched the God of Love in a playful mood sat nonchalantly on the back of a good-natured lion. The genre painter and portraitist, Vilhelm Marstrand, was just fifteen when he began his studies under C. W. Eckersberg at the Copenhagen Academy. From 1836 to 1839 he lived in Rome, where he joined the resident circle of Danish artists. Constantin Hansen’s famous group portrait of 1837 shows the artist in front of an open window in the com­pany of his Danish colleagues (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen). It was in Rome that Marstrand discovered his own field of artistic endeavour in the depiction of the everyday life of Romans. His genre scenes reflect the day-to-day activities of the inhabitants of Rome and the colourful goings-on in the streets of the città eterna. Marstrand used this genre, which quickly gained great popularity, to address a new, middle-class clientele back home. Pictures of the everyday life of ordinary people were in vogue around 1840 and served to satisfy the yearning for Italy felt among the Danish public. In 1841 Marstrand returned to Copenhagen, where he was appointed a member of the Academy two years later. From 1848 he taught there as a professor, although he subsequently returned to Italy on many occasions for study tours lasting several years.

The present study sheet from a sketchbook probably arose during his first stay in Italy. The drawing is a witty, playful variation on a theme treated by his famous colleague, the sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen, in a relief done in 1831. Whereas classical severity dominates in Thorvaldsen’s work, Marstrand’s interpretation radiates a carefree light-heartedness.

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