The Dallas Museum of Art acquired in May “Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight,” 1817, by Danish artist Johan Christian Dahl (1788 – 1857). The museum says the painting is one of the most important works from the Copenhagen phase of Johan Christian Dahl’s career.
Long missing, the work was rediscovered in 2000 after a cleaning revealed a signature and date of 1817, the year before Dahl left Copenhagen for Dresden. Dahl is best known today as a Romantic painter of Nordic landscapes, often seen in dramatic lighting or weather conditions. He is also considered one of the great masters of Danish Golden Age painting. Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight, on view for the first time publicly since 1817, is currently accessible through the Museum’s conservation gallery.
The first record of Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight appears in a letter from Dahl to fellow artist Christian Albrecht Jensen on October 30, 1817, in which he mentions several works he had completed that summer, including three paintings of Frederiksborg Castle. The largest of those three paintings, which is now in the DMA collection, was commissioned by Etatsraad Bugge. The other two works were created for King Frederik VI in 1817 and are now in the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen. One of the paintings for King Frederik shows the castle from the same vantage point in the palace gardens as the DMA painting, but in the daylight. The other shows the castle by moonlight but from a more distant point in the gardens.
Frederiksborg Castle is one of the largest castles in Scandinavia. It was built by King Christian IV (1577-1648) in the first two decades of the seventeenth century on the site of an older royal residence and hunting lodge that had been built by King Frederick II (1534-1588), for whom the new palace was named.
By the eighteenth century, Frederiksborg Castle was rarely occupied by the royal family, and it was only in the nineteenth century that it became a romanticized symbol of Denmark-Norway’s glorious past. The Romantic character of the castle, particularly in evening light, is evident in Dahl’s 1817 series of paintings. His interest in exploring the visual and psychological effects of moonlight was shared by a number of his contemporaries, particularly Caspar David Friedrich, who had studied in Copenhagen between 1794 and 1798 and who became Dahl’s closest associate in Dresden. Dahl’s paintings of Frederiksborg Castle became powerful icons of Romantic Danish nationalism, and were an important source for younger artists including Christian Købke and P.C. Skovgaard.