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  • Writer's pictureDale Jackson

A short study of Peder Mørk Mønsted (1859-1941) Danish Realist Painter

Mønsted, a turn-of-the-century Danish Realist has become, at least for me, my favorite Landscape artist of all time. Why you ask? There are so many great landscape artists out there, why him, you ask?

Well, for me at least, Peder Mørk Mønsted has brilliantly captured the essence of light and shadow within his brush strokes, you can see this especially in his landscape paintings of rivers, creeks, streams, meadows and woodlands.

Many today would say "It looks just like a photograph!" and while I believe that they believe they think this a great compliment, I actually encourage people to rather say "It looks so true to life!" as indeed Monsted's paintings really do.

Monsted's paintings are paintings! Not from photographs but from his plein air studies and real out-of-the-door painting experiences and he truly understood the dynamics of light and shadow and tones so well that he could bring it all into the studio and truly produce masterpieces!

Better than photos! Oh yes! And while there are hordes of artists today who can draw and paint every pore and bump in their hyperreal works of art, I prefer to see true masters of light and tonal qualities in brush strokes.

Peder Mørk Mønsted was known as the painter's painter. He didn't paint every single blade of grass or detail every single leaf on a tree, and this is good! It allows our minds to fill in the gaps and actually give his paintings a very particular interest and fascination! Look at one of his works far away and it's as if you were really there. Even look close, and you're mind can definitely fill in the rest of the details.

I feel that not every single detail needs to be painted! I say this being a very detail-oriented artist having to create extraordinarily detailed illustrations for the sake of accuracy. However, when I paint landscapes or seascapes, I really want to back off of that type of insane detail to be able to be more expressive.

Take a look at a few examples of Monsted's paintings to see what I mean:

Below is Monsted's painting titled, "En skovsø med en robåd, i baggrunden et hus" (Danish). In English it is translated as "A forest lake with a rowboat, in the background a house." It is an oil painting he painted in 1903. It is 15.7 in tall by 22 in wide.

(Click on the image below to see the details in large view)

Note his excellent command of light and shadow and the tones indicated by his brush strokes rather than in exacting details by themselves.

Monsted doesn't try to detail the exact detail of the boat but instead focuses on tonal quality in relation to sunlight

He doesn't paint every single leaf on the trees, but rather masters light and shadow and depth with brushstrokes. He has complete mastery of his oils.

Monsted doesn't paint every single branch or leaf. Instead this is left to the viewer's mind to fill in the details. Monsted focuses instead on capturing light, shadow and color and depth accurately as he sees them. This gives his paintings far more realism than if one had captured every single detail and doesn't make his paintings boring. If there's nothing for the mind to put together itself, the mind would be bored of the work. Instead, Monsted gives the viewer the ability to see ever further into his serene landscapes.

Note that there are some details in the lily flowers, but the lilies themselves are really just accurately colored forms, tonal shapes.

Leaves and grasses are indicative rather than exacting. What is more exacting is Monsted's use of light and shadow and depth. Even the house in the distance is just a mere hint and not a very defined subject, this adds tremendous depth to the scene.

As you can see from the images from his painting above. Monsted does not overwork his paintings. I know I have overworked paintings and drawings to my dismay and I burn out on the details and lose interest. I fear doing such overwork will also make the viewer lose focus too. For me, just taking a very close and far away look at Monsted's works helps me as an artist to focus on what is important instead of trying to detail every single thing in the work. Besides, our eyes don't even do that. We have very selective eyes and minds. Peder Monsted knew this and mastered the ability to convey realism in a truly ingenious and painterly way.

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