Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dangerous Symptom

It is a dangerous symptom when the sheer awfulness of an artist becomes a source of fascination, but unfortunately that is how I feel at present about Danish painter Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834–1890). He filled churches throughout Protestant Scandinavia with his pious paintings, tidy coloring-book versions of the peerless religious art he saw in Rome as a student.

Bloch made himself hugely popular in the mid-nineteenth century, but in later life fell somewhat out of favor as Modernism began to gain what the popular press now calls traction. After a period of obscurity he was redeemed in the 1960s when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began reproducing Bloch’s paintings in its house magazine. Since then his work has come to represent the very face of Mormon orthodoxy, which would probably please the old fraud enormously.