About the work





Das Urteil des Paris, 1966
The Judgment of Paris
Mixed media on masonite
Nine boards totalling 366 x 366 cm 

The painting is dominated by the white structure. It resembles a classical Greek pediment with the traditional colonnade. The painting illustrates Kirkeby's interest in architectural forms, specifically pediments and fences which he employs to enclose natural sceneries, often rendered as chromatic and growing wild.


Thus a stark contrast emerges in the painting between the formal, schematic austerity of the architectural form and the expressive, romantic landscape. However the white structure is not necessarily a piece of architecture; it may be an instance of formal serialism without a distinct subject.


The painting combines the abstract and the figurative: two potent and continuously opposing directions in modern painting.


The Judgment of Paris is an example of Kirkeby's juxtaposition of what he calls pure and impure painting. The pure painting is concerned exclusively with itself and its medium as subject, i.e. it explores issues of painting. Conversely the impure painting contains references e.g. to literature and philosophy.


The title The Judgment of Paris is a classical art historical motif over the Greek myth which found Paris deciding who was the most beautiful of Aphrodite, Athena and Hera. The juxtaposition of ostensibly opposing poles and outlooks is one of the constants of Kirkeby's art.


Kirkeby combines in The Judgment of Paris a number of prominent isms from the history of Western art. The painting is a pastiche-inspired discussion of expressions and possibilities in the art of different periods.


Kirkeby's work in the mid-1960s is distinguished by repetition, simplification and abstraction. This piece finds him working with architectural shapes, demarcating the expressive, lyrical nature.


With the classical opposites inside vs outside and nature vs culture Kirkeby creates a parallel to the paintings of the Golden Age from Copenhagen and Italy in which the classical architecture was juxtaposed with landscapes. Kirkeby's application of the classicist architecture places him in an important tradition in Danish art history, personified e.g. by Thorvaldsen and C.F. Hansen.


The Judgment of Paris is part of the series of paintings that Kirkeby executed in the 1960s on 122 x 122 cm masonite boards with enamel paint. By imposing certain limitations in advance and using cheap materials Kirkeby, in a spirit typical of the 1960s, tried to distance himself from the previous painting and its nature of fetish.


Per Kirkeby's art in general
In the 1960s Kirkeby's painting was also influenced by American Pop art. He incorporated visual quotations, templates, comics, etc from the modern world of media. The paintings are distinguished by a collage technique and the shiny, eye-catching paint and colours. Parallel with this Kirkeby experimented with paintings with serial sequences, like e.g. The Judgment of Paris.


ARKEN's Collection includes three works by Per Kirkeby. In terms of both expression and time the pictures lie far apart. Thus they illustrate his profound development from his early days in the 1960s until today.

Nature in various forms is Kirkeby's recurring motif. In some of his paintings, e.g. The Judgment of Paris, there is a certain resemblance; in other, later works, e.g. Even if We Were Birds, We Could Not Hope to Escape (ARKEN's Collection), the interpretation is far more abstract. Here the landscape is evident as an atmosphere and as a wealth of different expanses of colour overlapping each other, thus alternately revealing and concealing each other.

The many layers of paint on the canvas imbue Kirkeby's paintings with their own unique history. Kirkeby calls this process depositing – a technical term taken from geology. The finished painting holds several – painted over – paintings.

With his paintings and sculptures Per Kirkeby has touched on significant trends in modern Western art. In the 1960s he was heavily influenced by the American Pop art and Minimalism whereas his paintings from subsequent years have become more abstract. In addition a completely different artistic outlook is present in his œuvre: the tradition from the Nordic Romanticism.


By mixing the Romantic art and the theoretical minimalism, Kirkeby unites two positions in modern art that at times are opposites: the American 1960s art that intellectually challenged the prevailing definition of art and the Romantic tradition in which art is mythical and potentially metaphysical.


Romanticism's quest for the great art that tells of this world as well as the supernatural Kirkeby interprets in a modern, increasingly abstract idiom. Since the late 1970s his paintings have attained a more textural and psysical character. Kirkeby's application of a more spontaneous and free brushwork has made them more painterly.

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