During a trip to Madrid to examine paintings by Rubens and Van Dyck with a colleague at the Prado, interesting discoveries on their panels were made. Some of these findings concern an Antwerp panel maker from around 1600 – about whom more will be published in the forthcoming proceedings from the very successful ‘Symposium XXI for the Study of Underdrawing and Technology in Painting’,The Bruegel Success Story: Creative Process, Imitation, Emulation, Workshop Organization and Business Strategies (Brussels, September 12-14, 2018).
After hours we needed a bite and went strolling down the narrow streets in Barrio de las Letras where a small, rather dimly lit café caught our attention. The music, rather loud and of American inspiration, was asynchronously accompanied by a large blinking and flashy slot machine on display. But this was not what caught our attention. Nor was it the cosy illumination by two lamps with each three lights placed in vertical bronze tubes designed as small organ pipes (two bulbs missing on the right). It was not the brown silent, closed upright piano with a small planting with palm leaves offering a sense of nature within the dark room that charmed us. No, it was a painting hanging centrally positioned between the organ-pipe wall lamps, almost as a devotional altar, that caught our eyes. The image looked quite unusual for the Cortes neighbourhood in Madrid.
The painting is depicting a young girl carrying a basket of fruits. On her head a large straw hat with a light blue (faded?) ribbon falling to her shoulders. Although hard to see next to the flickering lights from the slot-machine, the glaring lamps on either side and the reflections in the glass-protection, the girl appeared familiar.
Upon a closer look, the painting in the café in Madrid turns out to be a reproduction of the original in the national gallery of Denmark, SMK, in Copenhagen. Although until recently seen as a juvenile work of one of the Danish golden age painters, Jørgen Roed (1808 – 1888), ‘A Girl with Fruits in a Basket’ is today on display as a work by his contemporary colleague Constantin Hansen (1804 – 1880).
The painting is thought to be painted by Hansen around 1827 shortly before he in 1829 became a pupil of the acclaimed professor at the Danish Art Academy, C.F. Eckersberg (1783-1853) and 6 years before he travelled to Italy to acquire further inspiration. Constantin Hansen painted several portraits under the impression of his father Hans Hansen (1769-1828) and his great inspiration Jens Juel (1745-1802). Often he used his sisters as a motif and he already in 1825-27 developed an independent idea of the interaction of form and colour. The painting of ‘A Girl with Fruits in a Basket’ (unfortunately marred by numerous discoloured retouches from the past, notably from her right eye and down her cheek), offers fine qualities in handling a rather horizontal light. Her serious attitude with large dark eyes looking directly at us shows a delicate and noble painting which in 1916 entered to SMK by will of Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916).
Considering the abundance of virgin variations of Flora-motifs created by Spanish artists from the 17th century onwards, it was a surprise to find Hansen’s ‘Girl with Fruits in a Basket’ in a dark café in the Cortes area. I would rather have expected a reproduction of for instance a ‘Girl Selling Fruit’, 1650-1660, by Bartolome Esteban Murillo (1617-1682), now at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow.
We shall probably never know if there is any logic behind the rationale of displaying a juvenile work by a Danish 19th century artist primarily known for his architectural or mythological paintings in the Cortes-café. The average visitor to the tavern, its slot-machine and the drinks offered, may in fact not even notice the painting overshadowed as she is by loud music and the twinkling and flashing lights amongst which she is displayed.
It was, however, a nice distraction to unexpectedly meet up with a ‘Girl’ from SMK, while engaged in research on the fabulous collection of Rubens and Van Dyck paintings at the Prado in Madrid.