The painter Jens Juel (1745-1802) represents more or less the pinnacle of Danish portraiture in the 1700s, and was the Royal Family’s, the nobility’s, and the affluent bourgeoisie’s fêted portrait painter.
After having been educated at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, Juel went in 1772 on an eight year long journey abroad. He spent four years in Rome, and thereafter spent time in Paris and Geneva. Shorty after his return to Copenhagen Juel was appointed court portrait painter, and in 1786 he was appointed a professor at the academy, which he became the director of in 1795.
Juel was the first to cultivate landscape in Danish art, and painted fine and characterful landscapes. But it was as a painter of portraits that he produced his finest work, and in them Juel unites elegant composition and assured draughtsmanship with an eye for materials and colour.
Juel brought home with him the latest artistic currents of the age and transformed them on Danish soil. Without giving up the traditions of court portraiture, Juel was able to depict his subjects closer to nature. This was particularly expressed in his depictions of children; in step with the ideals of the time, and the social thinker Jean Jacques Rousseau’s ideas about freer possibilities for self-expression, they were depicted with a previously unseen naturalness. The children no longer seemed like small adults, but like children.
Another reason for Juel’s popularity was presumably that he depicted his subjects in flattering ways. The great demand meant that Juel had to employ several assistants to help him, and today we do not know to what degree they helped Juel and which parts of the process they were responsible for.
The Royal Family were so enamoured of Juel that he immortalised three generations of them. At Rosenborg you can today see nine royal portraits, of among others Christian VII, Caroline Mathilde, and Louise Augusta, all painted by Juel.
Frederik VI, 1794
This portrait of the Crown Prince is the earliest known of Frederik (VI) without a wig. The Crown Prince’s natural hair is, however, powdered and combed back. At the end of the 18th century fashion too had been influenced by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s radical thinking about the natural. Therefore, wigs, big hairstyles, tight bodice dresses, and richness of detail in clothing were being replaced by a simpler style. The portrait was painted in 1794, and the Crown Prince wears a blue admiral’s uniform. There is uncertainty about whether Jens Juel painted this portrait himself. The great interest in being portrayed by the popular artist meant that he had to get assistance to complete the many commissions. His workshop was for the same reason known as Juel’s ‘portrait factory’ by sharp tongues of the time.
Christian VII, wearing a powdered wig with three puffs and a black ribbon at the neck, observes the viewer in this portrait painted by Jens Juel. The King’s left hand rests on a table, on which a black hat is also placed. He wears a red jacket and a yellow waistcoat with a gold ribbon, and is furthermore decorated with the Order of the Elephant as well as rapier at his side. Placing the king in naturalistic surroundings was typical of Jens Juel’s style, the inspiration for which he had found during a stay in Switzerland. The idea was that the person portrayed should be painted in his or her usual surroundings, and not among lofty clouds, as was characteristic of the rococo.
Frederik VI, 1781
Frederik VI as Crown Prince, portrayed by Jens Juel. Frederik wears a green jacket with gold embroidery, a lace shirt frill, a low powdered wig tied at the neck with a black ribbon, and holds a black hat under his left arm. The portrait is one of the many Jens Juel made of the royal family. The majority of the thousand portraits he produced stem from after 1780, and the portraits at Rosenborg can also be dated to this period. Jens Juel’s early clients were the bourgeoisie, but once he attained greater recognition for his work the circle of customers widened and came to consist primarily of the nobility and the royal family.
In this portrait Princess Louise Augusta wears a brown dress with lace pleats along the square neckline and on the sleeves. She is decorated with Christian VII’s order, consisting of brilliants on a blue ribbon with silver and a red edge. The flowers are typical of the age’s focus on all things natural, and exemplifies that Jens Juel’s work in the portrait genre also reflected the evolution of society. His earliest portraits were partly characterised by the opulence of the rococo, while his later work distances itself from it, and the portraits become gradually more naturalistic. Juel was influenced by a bourgeois realism which was, however, adapted and toned down in step with his circle of customers being widened to society’s upper echelons.