Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe

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Sonne, Jørgen

  • DanishVisual arts
  • GND ID
    Social category
    Painters, sculptors, architects
    Sonne, Jørgen
    Sonne, Jørgen

    Jørgen Sonne (1801–1890) was educated at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen between 1814 and 1828 under J.L. Lund. In 1828 he left Denmark for the Munich art academy, and in 1831 travelled to Italy, staying in Rome until 1840 as part of the Scandinavian artists’ colony there. Here he turned from imagined war motifs to rustic genre painting and local colour.

    His experience of nationalism in Germany and Italy sharpened his perspective on internal matters in Denmark. Upon his return to Denmark in 1840, he joined the national-liberal cause of freedom for the people and love of the fatherland. Soon, he became one of the key figures in the inner circles around the politician Orla Lehmann and the art historian N.L. Høyen, together with the much younger artists P.C. Skovgaard and J.Th. Lundbye. When Høyen, at the beginning of the 1840s, encouraged Danish painters to depict the nation’s contemporary folk traditions, with special regard to the (idealized) peasantry, Sonne was already using these motifs, which by the late 1840s served a national-identitarian purpose with a political undertone. His Rural scene (1848) depicts two Danish female peasants as Roman goddesses, dressed in the national colours, red and white, and situated in a harmonious summer landscape with a neolithic grave in the background. In the foreground, a young boy is scaring the birds in the shadow further out of the landscape, symbolically suggesting the then-ongoing Schleswig-Holstein war.

    In addition to such scenes of idealized rural life, with nationalist undertones, Sonne returned, in these war years, to the genre of battle painting (now no longer imaginary, as it had been before). He became one of the nation’s official war reporters during the First (1848-51) and Second Schleswig War (1864). While the scenes were based on personal experience, the painting style, sanitized of blood and casualties, was idealized propaganda, depicting the Danish soldiers in heroic and patriotic sceneries.

    During the years 1846-50, Sonne designed and created the exterior decorations of the newly built Thorvaldsen Museum, with a national narrative showing all the prominent members of the Copenhagen bourgeoisie welcoming Thorvaldsen home in 1838. These gigantic wall paintings have become important visual monuments in Danish national art.

    Word Count: 364

    Article version
  • Damsgaard, Nina (eds.); Jørgen Sonne, 1801-1890 (Aarhus: Aarhus Kunstmuseum, 1988).

    Grand, Karina Lykke; “Politisering af det nationale? Billedkunstneriske og politiske agendaer omkring midten af 1800-tallet i Danmark”, Passepartout, 19 (2014), 65-113.

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    All articles in the Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe edited by Joep Leerssen are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://www.spinnet.eu.

    © the author and SPIN. Cite as follows (or as adapted to your stylesheet of choice): Grand, Karina Lykke, 2022. "Sonne, Jørgen", Encyclopedia of Romantic Nationalism in Europe, ed. Joep Leerssen (electronic version; Amsterdam: Study Platform on Interlocking Nationalisms, https://ernie.uva.nl/), article version, last changed 20-04-2022, consulted 24-05-2024.