Peter Christian Skovgaard (Ringsted 1817 – Copenhagen 1875) was educated at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen during the 1830s under J.L. Lund, who was a classical Romantic history painter, and professor C.W. Eckersberg, who reformed the genre of landscape painting by arranging field studies for his students to work outdoors. Skovgaard brought landscape to a higher level of complexity during the 1840s and 1850s by investing landscapes with a national iconography or symbolism: naturalistic views of cultivated forests with a prominent presence of tall, full-crowned beeches (e.g. A Beech Wood in May, 1857). Denmark had a long-standing tradition for celebrating the oak tree as a monarchic symbol; the beech tree became a bourgeois counter-icon in the 1840s, and in turn, following the demise of the absolute monarchy in 1848-49, was canonized into Denmark’s new national tree. (Skovgaard rammed the point home by subtly adding small, stunted oak trees to his landscapes.)
In foregrounding the beech, Skovgaard picked up on a poetical tradition established since the beginning of the century in the verse of N.S.F. Grundtvig and in the anthem Der er et yndigt Land (“There is a lovely land”). Skovgaard and his colleague J.Th. Lundbye (1818–1848) were close friends of the Grundtvig family and often attended Grundtvig’s sermons. The influential art historian and critic N.L. Høyen also formed part of these national-liberal-minded circles. Skovgaard’s close links to the political society of the upper bourgeoisie resulted in many commissions, especially for liberal-minded politicians, poets, pastors, doctors and critics.