Johan Rohde and the Free Exhibition

Johan Rohde trained first as a doctor, but at a mature age he decided to follow a career in art, first receiving private tuition from the artists Frederik Rohde and Wenzel Tornøe. He was admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where he was taught from 1881-1882. Among the young artists of the time there was a great deal of dissatisfaction with the teaching in the Academy and with the exhibitions in Charlottenborg that were all subject to the views of an exhibition committee. They believed that established art had stagnated and was out of step with modern trends making themselves felt in art abroad.

So several of the younger artists left the Academy and instead attended classes in the Artists' Study School, where P.S. Krøjer and Lauritz Tuxen taught on the basis of inspiration from modern French art. Rohde was also to be found there during the years 1883-1887, and this is where his talent as a painter was developed.

The growing dissatisfaction with the Charlottenborg exhibitions, which prevented young artists with modern ideas from exhibiting, led to the establishment of the Free Exhibition in 1891. It was Johan Rohde along with Malthe Engelsted, Vilhelm Hammershøi, Christian Mourier Petersen, the husband-and-wife partnership of Agnes and Harald Slott-Møller and J.F. Willumsen, who took the initiative in founding this association. The result was many remarkable exhibitions of works by  a large number of different artists. Several of the artists associated with the Free Exhibition also experimented with decorative art, which just at this time was affecting artistic developments and achieving importance for the emergence of a new painterly idiom and a symbolist aesthetic.

In addition to the artists who helped found the Free Exhibition there were also many others who exhibited as guests. In 1893, Rohde and Theodor Philipsen caused a sensation when they were able to put on an exhibition of works by Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. This was before these artists gained international recognition, and the exhibition was given a very mixed reception. But for artists with modern ideas it was of enormous importance. Rohde was the driving force in the Free Exhibition, where he managed affairs from 1891-93 and exhibited from 1891 to 1895 and in 1898. He exhibited there regularly from 1900 to his death in 1935 - except for 1919, when he moved to a house in Norgesmindevej in Hellerup, where he had designed both the house and its contents.

Rohde taught in the Artists' Study School from the beginning of the 1890s until 1912, and he taught many artists who subsequently came to represent early modernism. Among his pupils were Oluf Høst, Olaf Rude, William Scharff and Edvard Weie, who each in his own way went in for landscapes, still lifes and figure painting;




Odense City Museums
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