Carl Dahl

Carl Dahl
(Fåborg 1812 - 1865 Copenhagen)

The Frigate ‘Freya’

Oil on canvas, 22.7 x 21.5 cm

Signed lower right C DAHL
Annotated in pencil on the stretcher C. Dahl / Fregatten Freya 1824-1853

Private collection, New York.






Carl Dahl studied at the Copenhagen Academy of Fine Arts under the landscape painter Jens Peter Møller from 1835 to 1842. He was taught perspective drawing and composition by the architect Gustav Friedrich Hetsch. His career took an important turn on meeting Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg. Today, Eckersberg is regarded as the leading painter of the Danish Golden Age. Eckersberg began to instruct Dahl in marine painting in 1840 and the genre became his major preoccupation. The two became fast friends, working together, sharing a studio and accompanying each other to the harbor to make sketches of ships. They often worked on each other’s paintings, particularly in the final stages of completion. When Eckersberg’s sight began to deteriorate in the early 1850s, it was often Dahl who added the detail of the masts, the rigging and the sails to Eckersberg’s paintings. Dahl taught perspective at the Academy from 1842 to 1848. While a drawing instructor at the Søkadet Academy from 1840 to 1852 he participated in the First Schleswig-Holstein War of 1848-50[1] and had the opportunity to perfect his perspective and painting skills by observing naval battles and maneuvers.

Dahl travelled extensively. He was in Lisbon in 1840, in Germany and the South of France in 1852 and 1855, in Norway in 1861, and in London and the Faroe Islands in 1862.[2]

The present painting by Carl Dahl depicts the Danish frigate Freya[3] at its moorings in Copenhagen harbor. In the chill light of daybreak the water is as smooth as glass. The frigate is shown unrigged – as was usual in peacetime. In wartime, a frigate would be fully rigged on all three masts. The only vestiges of rigging in evidence are the two stern lines, one of which is made fast to a mooring bollard shown at the left. The reflections of the ship’s hull, the bollard and the mooring line in the smooth water of the harbor provide the central focus of the painting. The metallic chill of the early morning light and remarkable calm of this unpeopled scene evoke silence and a sense of monumentality.

Construction of the Freya was completed on August 26, 1819. It entered service as a cadet ship on May 8, 1824, serving for three months. It carried full wartime rigging from August 18 to October 17, 1848 and from March 24 to December 1, 1849. It was decommissioned in 1853 and sold to H. Puggaard & Co., a commercial company.

[1] The First Schleswig-Holstein War, or Three Years’ War (Danish: Treårskrigen), broke out in March 1848. The warring parties were the Kingdom of Denmark on the one hand and on the other, the German national liberal movement in the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein in alliance with the majority of the members of the German Federation. The London Protocol, signed on 8 May 1852, ended hostilities. It guaranteed Danish sovereignty over the duchies but confirmed their status as independent entities.

[2] For details of Dahl’s biography, see C. W. Eckersberg og hans elever, exhib. cat., Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen 1983, p. 93 f.; Kasper Monrad, in The Golden Age of Danish Painting, exhib. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 1994, p. 71.

[3] Technical data: length: 48.09 m, beam: 11.84 m, draught: 5.42 m, displacement: 1.11 tons, complement: 404 officers and men, armament: twenty-eight 18-pounder guns, eight 8-pounder guns, ten 30-pounder carronades, four 12-pounder howitzers (later: forty-six 18-pounder guns).

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