Autumn Morning on Lake Sortedam

Christen Købke (1810-1848)
Glyptoteket, Copenhagen Se kort

By Trine Møller Madsen, art and culture writer, 2006

The man, the tree and the pink morning 

A lake, a path and a man. Two trees and some bushes. Autumn Morning at Lake Sortedam is a simple picture with hardly any action at all. And yet! The man in the picture is moving forward. Who is he? And where is he headed? And is there a connection between the dark figure and the naked tree in the foreground? The two figures are soon to meet. The painting oozes atmosphere. Maybe that’s what sparks the imagination. 

Pink precision 

Christen Koebke was a student of C.W. Eckersberg (1783-1853) who is also represented in The Canon for Art, and was taught the virtues of the art of the golden age. This involved observing nature, intimate life and the neighbouring environment and then describing the observations as precisely and detailed as possible. This is exactly what Koebke did. Every little twig on the trees and bushes is painted. 

Storytelling and drama took second place in naturalistic art. Nevertheless, it is difficult not to let the imagination flow freely in front of Koebke’s atmosphere-filled painting. But initially note the vertical and horizontal lines that keep the motif in balance. Koebke had an unusual capacity for creating balance in the composition. And then he is famous for his unique sense of colour - like here where he catches and depicts a special pink-coloured morning light. 

Nearly Japanese 

The strong trunk, the branches and the small twigs of the tree appear clearly on the sky. It was a bold stroke to contrast the dark contours against the shining background. The result is graphic and reminds us of the expression in the simple Japanese wood engravings that were popular in Koebke’s period. The large crown of the tree makes the sky crack in front of our eyes and those of the lonely wanderer. Or is it a symbol of small veins or nerves that give life and nourishment to the morning? Perhaps it is simply a tree at a lake shore. Everything depends on the eyes that see. What do you see? 

Autumn Morning on Lake Sortedam, 1838. Oil on canvas. 33 x 45 cm. Photo: Ole Haupt. Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket.
Christen Købkes: A View of Lake Sortedam from Dosseringen Looking towards the Suburb Nørrebro outside Copenhagen, (1838). Oil on canvas. 63.6 x 82.6 x 10.5 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst.
Visual Arts

Did you know?

Dog walkers and sweaty cone runners you have to look far at Købke's paintings from the area at Sortedamssøen. At Købke's time, the lake lay on the outskirts of Copenhagen and did not have much to do with today's busy city center.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Visuel Art, 2006

The man walking on the path is thickset and wrapped in a dark coat. The graceful, pink morning light is behind him, but ahead looms a black tree. The tree fills half the picture, and forms a violent cross with the horizon. Branches, twigs and a few leaves fill the bright sky like a black net. So sharp, it could be the man’s nerve fibres. One twig, one leaf is painted at a time. Each neurite next to the other. Maybe Koopke, as he struggled with the image and waited for God to make the picture succeed, painted himself to see his own excessive sensitivity.


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