Gerson Digital : Denmark


6.5 New Private Collections

At the beginning of the 18th century at the latest originated new private collections, such as that of Count Christian Danneskiold-Samsøe (1702-1728) or that of the ‘Gehejmeraad’ (privy councillor) Poul Løvenørn (1686-1740), to which the royal Kunstkammer later helped itself. It was from the latter collection that Kunstkammer director Wahl, who was also buying on the Hamburg art market in the 1740s, acquired 38 paintings of predominantly Dutch and Flemish provenance.1

The composition of the private Danish art collections is only documented from the middle of the 18th century on, as leading court personalities and Copenhagen burghers began to collect art. Some of these collections only emerged in an auction catalogue and have been described with varying degrees of precision. While the auction catalogues of the Seehuus (1745), Mylius (1754) und Hofman (1754) collections mention only subjects, Morell’s catalogue for the Moltke collection takes the viewer through a veritable tour raisonné of the collection, which was not auctioned until 1931.2 Especially with important art collections of this kind, the influence of Morell on the assemblage can’t be missed. Morell had already advised Count Adam Gottlob Moltke with the setup of his painting cabinet in the private chambers of Amalienborg and he was personally introduced to the court by the powerful Lord Chamberlain, who was also president of the Asiatic Trade Company and of the royal academy of art. There Morell was able to exert influence on the collections of Secret Councillor of State Otto Thott (1703-1785) [1] as well as of Count Johann Ludvig von Holstein (1694-1763) [2]. Whereas the greater part of the Thott collection came to auction in 1787/88 and only few works remain at Gavnø Castle,3 the Holstein collection still remains at Ledreborg Castle, though without our knowing precisely which and how many pieces were purchased in the 18th century.

Johann Martin Preissler after Per Krafft (I)
Portrait of Otto Thott (1703-1785), dated 1783
paper, engraving ? x ? mm
lower left : P. Kraft pinxit
Copenhagen, SMK - The Royal Collection of Graphic Art

Odvard Helmoldt de Lode after Carl Gustav Pilo
Portrait of the art collector Johan Ludvig Holstein (1694-1763), dated 1757
paper ? x ? mm
lower right : O.H. de Lode Sculps. Chalcogr. Reg. Soc.Dan. 1757
Copenhagen, SMK - The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, inv./ KK 3930/0468

The Moltke, Morell and Thott collections

Best documented are the Moltke4 and Thott5 collections, which were substantially similar to Morell’s private collection, which was auctioned in 1773.6 Thus the Moltke and Morell collections are very similarly structured both with respect to combination of subjects and the national origins of the painters. In both cases the Dutch and Flemish paintings predominate by far, and only with Morell is the provenance for a substantial part of the pictures unknown [3].

The nationality of the painters then influences the presentation of themes, which is marked more by landscapes than by genre pictures, still lifes or animal paintings. The relatively large share of genre pictures encountered with Moltke in comparison to Morell is explained by the more exquisite character of the Moltke collection. In the at first sight somewhat more traditionally structured Thott collection, in which portraits predominate over histories and landscapes, the share of Dutch paintings appears to be generally less. However, the great mass of anonymous paintings and copies distorts the picture [4].

If, however, we separate the approximately 80 Dutch (and Flemish) paintings from the 800 pictures of the Thott collection, we observe numerous similarities with the 90 paintings of this provenance in the Moltke collection and in the corresponding holdings for Morell. Thus, beside works by Rembrandt in all three collections, the representative Dutch and Flemish painters for each subject are represented: Brouwer, Ostade and Teniers for the peasant genre, Berchem, Ruisdael and Saftleven for landscapes; De Heem, Willem Claesz Heda for still life; Frans and Willem van Mieris, and Netscher for genre. Morell’s advice could therefore have contributed to the canonization of these masters in the Danish collections. In the case of Moltke this is confirmed by another observation. As in Morell’s acquisitions for the Danish crown, Dutch paintings of the late 17th century (the silver age), occupy a stellar position: Gerard de Lairesse, Godfried Schalcken, Jan Griffier, Jan van Huchtenburg, Gerard Hoet and Adriaen van der Werff are all represented by masterpieces.7


Paintings in Copenhagen collections (in %)


Provenance of paintings in Copenhagen collections (in %)

In the descriptive catalogue of the Moltke collection, Morell demonstrates his artistic connoisseurship and his market expertise on the one hand and the exquisite compilation of this noblest of collections on the other. In addition to indications of artist, oeuvre, work at hand and comparable paintings in other collections, the material value is sometimes indicated in Ecus of six Danish Marks. For instance, we read for Jan van Huijsum’s Two Bunches of Flowers (so-called pendants):

The painter, who passed away eight years ago, had carried the painting of flowers and fruit to such a high degree of perfection, be it in the force of light on light, be it in transparency and truth, or be it in the marvellous finish, that within his lifetime he witnessed being paid at public sales up to 1,500 Dutch florins for one piece a little larger than the following number, and his reputation, which grew after his death, never fell. He also succeeded well with his landscapes, which he rendered with most agreeable taste, very large and with fine finish. These are in his first manner, altogether at the beginning, which scarcely convey the idea of his perfection, but the two pictures of His Majestyin Friedensburg [Fredensborg] [, with] flowers and fruits by Wardig approach it more. Two pots of flowers on canvas 27 inches high and 23 inches wide, with border of 2 ½ inches. N.B. the pendant [no. 72 is found on the other side of the floor plan ------ at 40.8

The spectrum of quality and spread of prices ranged from eight to ten Ecus for copies and small landscapes to 1,000 Ecus for a Wedding of Anthony and Cleopatra by Rubens. Moltke had a total of 139 masterpieces installed on three walls of a gallery, the arrangement of which has come down to us through a drawing [5]. In the middle of the long wall are the histories by Rubens (Anthony and Cleopatra) and Claude Vignon (Lot and His Daughters) [7] as well as Govert Flinck (= Karel van Mander III, Aaron) [6] above the door, which was framed by 40 smaller pictures by almost exclusively Dutch masters. The side walls show, in addition to Bacchus, Ceres and Venus by Jan Miel [8] and Small Moses by Titianetto (‘ou le petit Titien, Peintre moderne de Venise’), bigger and smaller Dutch and Flemish works but also paintings by Locatelli and Rugendas. Beside that 81 further paintings of mediocre quality decorated the walls of a pavilion.


Arrangement of the Moltke collection

Karel van Mander (III)
Aaron as high priest, c. 1640
canvas, oil paint 135.5 x 126 cm
Copenhagen, SMK - National Gallery of Denmark, inv./ KMS7985

Claude Vignon
Lot and his daughters (Genesis 19:30-38), dated 1625
canvas, oil paint 225 x 200 cm
Copenhagen, SMK - National Gallery of Denmark, inv./ KMS114

Jan Miel
Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus, dated 1645
canvas, oil paint 142.5 x 162.7 cm
lower right : J: de Miel /peint./1645
Sotheby's (New York City) 2016-05-26, nr. 52


1 See the various combinations by Kunstkammer director Wahl: Specification der schildereyen welge von dem Herr Etats-Rath von Lovenöhr gekauft habe; Specification derjenigen schildereyen welge von berühmten meistern gegenwertig in meiner samlung besetzt; den 18 Juli 1744 bin ich nach Hamburg gereyset und habe allda diese specivicierte schildereyen gekauft; all Statens Museum for Kunst (

2 See also Jespersen et al. 2010, pp. 348-389.

3 Madsen 1917, pp. 63-64.

4 Gerhard Morell, Catalogue des Tableaux de Son Excellence Monseigneur le Comte de Moltke Comte de Bregentved Chevalier de l’Ordre de l’Elephant Conseiller privé Grand Maréchal de la Cour Directeur de la Banque President de la Compagnie Rojale octrojé asiatique Grand Directeur President de l’Academie Rojale de la Peinture Sculpture & Architecture, Copenhagen 1756. Copy in Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, after the manuscript in the Archives at Bregentved, November 1931.

5 Fortegnelse paa den store Samling, som hans Höi-Grevelige Excellence S. T. Hr. Geheimeraad og Stats-Minister Otto Greve af Thott har efterladt sig af Malerier i. Oliefarve af berömte Mestere, Miniatur-, Vandfarve- og Pastel-Malerier og Haandtegninger; Som og en stor Samling Kobbere baade med og uden Glas og Rammer, hele Verker af Kobbere og Træsnit saavel af gamle som andre berömte Mestere, samt udstukne Kobberplader & c. (De herover forfattede Catalogi ere at bekomme hos Hr. Kunstkammerforvalter Spengler), Copenhagen 1787 (Lugt no. 4174, 24 April 1787).

6 Catalogus over Sal. Her Gerhard Morell, Forhyen Kongl. Dansk Kunst-Kammer-Forvalters smukke Cabinet, Inbeholdende en meget anseelig Samling af Skilderier, Kaaberstykker og Tegninger, Copenhagen 15 March 1773 (Lugt no. 2139); Lugt 1938-1987.

7 Mai/Paarlberg/Weber 2006-2007.

8 ‘Peintre mort depuis huit ans a porté la peinture de fleurs et des fruits a un si haut degré de perfection, soit en donnant de la force clair sur clair, soit dans la transparence & la vérité, ou soit dans le finis merveilleux, qu’il a vu pajer de son vivant dans les ventes publiques jusques a 1500 florins d’hollande d’une piece un peu plus grande que le No. suivant, & sa reputation augmenté aprés sa mort. ne tombera jamais. il a aussi tres bien reussi dans les pajsages, qu’il a fait d’un gout tres agréable, tres grand & d’un beau finis, ceux ci sont de sa premiere maniere tout au commencement qui ne donne point l’idée de sa perfection, mais les deux tableaux de S:M: a Friedensburg fleurs & fruits par Wardig approchent davantge. Deux Pots des Fleurs sur toile haut 27 Pouces large 23 Pouces largeur de la bordure 2 ½ pouces. N.B. le pendant 72 se trouve au pan de la muraille de l’autre coté ------ a 40.’ Catalogue des Tableaux de Son Excellence Monseigneur le Comte de Moltke (see note 4).

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