Michael Ancher’s Kunstdommere (Art Judges) is an important painting in Denmark’s “Modern Breakthrough,” when artists stepped away from romanticism. In the work, which is on loan from the Danish Museum of National History in Hillerød to the National Portrait Gallery from today until October 12, 2020, Ancher depicted four of his contemporaries, all of whom helped the Modern Breakthrough into existence, contemplating a painting we cannot see.
As it has done with previous iterations of the “Portraits of the World” series, the Portrait Gallery has placed Ancher’s work in a kind of conversation with works from its own collection, picking up the theme that anyone who’s been part of an art scene can identify with–how all the internal drama and rivalries push people within to make better work. So the gallery has placed, for example, a sharp-elbowed caricature of Marius de Zaya’s contemporaries in the New York art scene in the 1910s nearby, as well as George Biddle’s Zum Brauhaus, which shows fellow travelers like Peggy Bacon and Alexander Brook getting loose at a speakeasy.
Things are not always so convivial. Francis Picabia’s magazine cover Ici, c’est ici Stieglitz/foi et amour takes shots at Alfred Stieglitz, who operated the 291 Gallery on Fifth Avenue, which helped introduce artists such as himself, Pablo Picasso and Constantin Brancusi to the US. Ostensibly a tribute, it likens Stieglitz to a broken camera and to a stuck car. Art scenes, man: They can be rough.
“Portraits of the World: Denmark” is on view from December 13 to October 12, 2020 at the National Portrait Gallery.