Johan Frederik (Frits) Nikolai Vermehren, also known as Frederik Vermehren, (12 May 1823 – 10 January 1910), Danish realistic genre and portrait painter, was born in Ringsted to glazier Peter Frederik Nikolai Vermehren and his wife Sofie Amalie. His artistic career took place during the period of Danish art between the Golden Age of Danish Painting and that of the Skagen Painters. Vermehren, along with fellow artists Christen Dalsgaard and Julius Exner, were the three big names in Danish genre painting that depicted the ordinary people of the country, especially farmers and other country folk. His idealised depictions helped define and encourage Denmark's national romantic art period.
Growing up and early training
Conditions at home were simple, and as a boy Frederik had to work in his father's workshop. He did not have much opportunity to draw, but he was able to do some, and he impressed Jørgen Roed, artist who also hailed from the same area.
Frederik finally got the opportunity to begin training in 1838 when he started drawing classes under landscape painter Johannes Georg Smith Harder (also known as Hans Harder) as a student at Sorø Academy. The young Vermehren made good progress drawing free hand and making portraits, and wanted to continue developing his art. His father on the other hand did not want him to seek an art career. At the intercession of the Academy's Director, poet Bernhard Severin Ingemann, and his wife, the elder Vermehren was convinced to let his son train as an artist.
Training at the Academy
In 1844 Vermehren took to Copenhagen where he became a student at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) and trained under Jørgen Roed, who also hailed from his hometown of Ringsted. He exhibited his first painting at Charlottenborg in 1847, "En Skomager i sit Køkken" ("A Shoemaker in his Kitchen"), which was purchased by Christian VIII and praised by Niels Lauritz Høyen, art critic and advocate of a national artform, national romanticism. This type of depiction of typical Danish folk played a central part of Vermehren's production in the next several decades.
He also produced four portraits that same year.
He continued to show at Charlottenborg throughout his life with few years as exceptions.
He went into the army in 1848 as a volunteer in the first year of the Three Year's War, but his health did not allow him to continue. On his return home he painted "Reservesoldatens Afsked fra sin Familie" ("The Reserve Soldier's Farewll from his Family"") which was exhibited in 1850, and which now hangs in the collection of the Danish National Gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst).
In the years 1851–1854 he exhibited only a single painting, while at the same time he completed several of his more important works. These include "Hvedebrødsmanden" ("Wheatbread Seller") painted in 1851 and which now hangs in the Hirschsprung Collection, and "En jysk Faarehyrde paa Heden" ("A Jutland Shepherd on the Moor"), painted in 1853 and exhibited in 1855 in both Copenhagen and Paris. Vermehren comes into his own with these portraits of Jutlanders in their native landscapes.
In 1855 Vermehren traveled with the Academy's support for two years via Cologne, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, and Switzerland to Italy (Cervera, Gerano, Florence, Venice and Rome). In Italy he painted interiors, street scenes, landscapes and figure studies. He also spent a short time in Paris where his work ("A Sheepherder from Jutland on the Prairie") was exhibited, and he also came to admire the work of the French colorists, in particular that of Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Several painting based on Italian themes were exhibited including "En italiensk Hyrdedreng" ("An Italian Shepherd") and "Parti fra Byen Gerano" ("View from the Town of Gerano"), both painted in 1858.
He married Thomasine Ludvigne Grimer on 7 July 1857.
After his return to Denmark Vermehren returned also to Danish themes, painting many character studies, interior scenes, landscapes and genre paintings which garnered awards and were purchased by Danish museums.
In 1862 he took his second large travel, a trip to Holland, Paris and Rome, with a stipend from the Ancker Fund (Anckerske Legat). His work was shown that same year at the international exhibition in London.
His son, Gustav, was born on 28 December 1863, and would grow up to be a genre painter like his father.
An artistic and academic career
Vermehren became a member of the academy in 1864 and teacher in the School of Painting in 1865. Among his students was P. S. Krøyer who studied at the school 1864–1870, Kristian Zahrtmann (1864–1868), Vilhelm Hammershøi and Michael Ancher.
He was a member of the Exhibition Committee at Charlottenborg in 1864. His work was exhibited at the pan-Nordic exhibition in 1872, 1883 and 1888. He was Professor in the School of Painting from 1873–1901.
He continued to paint character paintings and genre paintings of Danish scenes, but from 1870 on he was known primarily for his portraits. He painted portraits of the day's important people, including painters Jørgen Sonne and P. C. Skovgaard, and sculptor Professor August Vilhelm Saabye.
He traveled to Paris in 1875. He taught at the school for Drawing and Applied Arts for Women between 1877–1907. His work was exhibited at the world exhibition in Paris in 1878.
He received a Treschow award in 1890, and was named honorary diplomat to Berlin in 1891 where his work was exhibited at the international art exhibition. He traveled to Berlin, Dresden, and Munich in 1883 along with architect, Ferdinand Meldahl.
He was given the honorable title Commander of the Dannebrog in 1892. He served as a member of the Commission for National Purchase of Artworks between 1890–1896.
He discontinued teaching at the Academy in 1901.
His works were exhibited at the exhibition "Danish Painters" at Guildhall, London, in 1907.
He died on 10 January 1910 in Copenhagen at the age of 86, and is buried in Assistens Cemetery.
Since his death his works have been shown in numerous exhibitions in Denmark and also in Rome in 1977, where they were part of an exhibition of Danish paintings made in Rome during the 1800s.
His works are in the collection of many Danish museums including the National Art Museum (Statens Museum for Kunst), the Hirschsprung Collection, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, and local art museums in Aarhus, West Zealand, and Koldinghus.
His careful depictions of ordinary Danish country folk, and his attention to details have helped document a people imperiled by the advance of industrialism. As a painter he was not interested in the darker aspects of the farmer's life, but preferred to show the ideal.
- KID Kunst Index Danmark ("Art Index Denmark")
- Danish Biographical Encyclopedia ("Dansk biografisk Leksikion")