Copenhagen’s Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK national gallery) is the largest collection of Danish paintings and art in Denmark. Admission to the permanent collection is no longer free.
The main focus of the National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen is not surprisingly Danish and Nordic paintings from 1750 to the present. However, the Statens Museum for Kunst (SMK) also has important collections of European paintings from 1300 to 1800, the Paris art scene of the early 20th century, and a selection of sculptures exhibited throughout the gallery. Buy admission tickets online from Tiqets.
The Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen
The National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst) in Copenhagen has the largest art collection in Denmark. Its basis is the royal art collection began at the start of the 16th century when Albrecht Dürer presented a large collection of his best prints to King Christian II.
The gallery’s collection of Danish and other Nordic painters of the 19th century is unrivaled but it also has a fine collection of European paintings from around 1300 to 1800. Danish artists feature prominently in the modern 20th and 21st century collection that also includes works of other prominent international artists.
The National Gallery of Denmark is housed in a neo-Renaissance building erected at the end of the 19th century by Vilhelm Dahlerup and E.V. Møller. The exhibition space was doubled when a new wing by Anna Maria Indrio opened in 1998.
The permanent exhibition is mostly on the second level of the museum and divided into the following exhibitions:
- Danish and Nordic Art (1750-1900)
- European Art (1300-1800)
- French Art (1900-1930)
- Danish and International Art After 1900
Seeing Danish and Nordic art should be a priority but it would be a shame to miss the small but significant collections of European and French art if time allows.
Danish and Nordic Art (1750 to 1900) in the SMK
The collection of paintings by Danish and Nordic painters of the classical, Biedermeier (Danish Golden Age), and romantic periods is a major draw to the National Gallery. Here visitors can see around 400 works to gain a quick overview of some of the most important periods of Danish art.
Although this exhibition starts with the classical period and ends with the birth of modernism, the most impressive works are from the Danish Golden Age (early to mid-19th century) and the landscape artists of the romantic period.
Prominence is given to important Danish painters such as C.W. Eckersberg and his pupils including Christian Købke but also groups of artists such as the Funen painters and the Skagen group.
Internationally the most-famous painter from this era is probably the Norwegian Edvard Munch (1863-1944). Three of his paintings are on display while other works may be seen by appointment. The famous The Scream is in the National Gallery of Norway in Oslo, a popular sight frequently visited by excursion travelers on the overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo.
Danish and International Art Post 1900 in the SMK
The modern art collection focuses on Danish artists but also has numerous works by other artists. These works are in the long, narrow new wing that overlooks the Østre Anlæg park.
The works are mostly displayed in chronological order. In the larger halls, the focus is on specific periods to give visitors an overview of art from 1900 to the present. In smaller rooms, the focus is on specific artists, movements or issues.
European Art (1300 – 1800) in the SMK
The Statens Museum for Kunst has a comprehensive collection of European old masters from around 1300 to 1800.
This part of the collection was purposely expanded during the 18th century to bring the Danish royal paintings collection on par with the galleries of other European monarchs. As a result, the museum has works by all major European painters from the era.
Particularly noteworthy are the works by Lucas Cranach the Elder – the gallery has the largest collection of his paintings outside Germany.
However, the works by other artists such as Titian, Rubens, and Rembrandt generally have more modern-day appeal.
French Art 1900-1930 in the SMK
The National Gallery of Denmark has a small but important collection of works by French artists from the early 20th century. These works are beautifully presented and give an interesting overview of how Matisse, Braque, Picasso, and Derain developed so dramatically away from the ideas of the late 19th century.
Many of these works were already donated to the museum during the 1920s by Johannes Rump.
→→The special exhibition Henri Matisse – The Red Studio will be on display at MoMA in New York from 1 May to 11 September 2022 before traveling to the SMK from 14 October 2022 to 26 February 2023.
Royal Collection of Graphic Art
The museum also houses the Danish Royal Collection of Graphic Art (Den Kongelige Kobberstiksamling) that includes around 300,000 drawings, etches, and lithographs by Danish and other European artists. The museum is fond to remind visitors that Dürer noted in his diary in 1521 that he gave King Christian II “the best pieces of all my prints”.
The graphic art collection was open to the public since 1843 but seeing prints in the study room require prior (free) reservations.
Visitors Information for the SMK
Admission Tickets for the National Gallery
Admission to the National Gallery of Denmark is DKK120 (buy online from Tiqets) and free for under 18-year olds. An adult accompanied by a child pays only DKK100 so bring them along.
The SMK has no free days but a few times per year, special free music and other cultural events are arranged in the SMK Fridays program. On these Fridays, often during the first week of the month, admission to most galleries is free from around 16:00 to 22:00.
Two combination ticket options are good savings deals for seeing the SMK:
- Parkmuseerne /Park Museum Ticket cost DKK245 and is valid for a year. It gives admission to the Rosenborg Slot (DKK125), SMK National Gallery (DKK120), Hirschsprung Collection (DKK55), Natural History & Geological Museum (DKK95), The Workers Museum (DKK90), the Palm House in the Botanical Garden (DKK60), and the David Collection (free). The ticket is sold at any of these museums and visitors with this tickets are already ahead after seeing the Rosenborg and SMK – two top sights in Copenhagen.
- The Copenhagen Card – typical transportation and sights pass, price varies.
Opening Hours of the National Gallery
Opening hours of the National Gallery are Tuesday to Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm, closing at 8 pm on Wednesday. The museum is closed on Monday but check the website for details of opening hours on vacation days.
Like many other galleries and museums in Denmark, the Statens Museum for Kunst actively encourages visitors to take photos (without flash or tripods) but reminds that artworks pass into public domain only 70 years after the death of the artist (and not after the work was completed). Fast free wifi is available throughout most of the museum.
The café in the museum serves cakes and small lunches. The nearby parks are great for picnics but restaurant options are very limited in the immediate vicinity but plentiful if heading back to Nørreport or Østerport stations.
Location & Transportation
The Statens Museum for Kunst, Sølvgade 48-50, 1307 København K, tel. +45 33 74 84 94, is at the southeastern corner of the Østre Anlæg park where it meets up with the large parks of the botanical garden and the Rosenborg castle park. Buses 23 (from the city center, station and Tivoli) stop across the road, as do bus 6A from Nørreport. It is an easy walk from Østerport or Nørreport train and metro stations – more pleasant via one of the parks than along the busy roads.
Other Sights Near the National Gallery
Several further major sights are located in this part of Copenhagen:
- The Hirschsprung Collection of nearly 2,000 Danish artworks from 1800 to 1910 is just behind the National Gallery in the Østre Anlæg park.
- Directly across the road from the SMK is the Geological Museum as well as the free botanical garden.
- Diagonally across from the National Gallery is the Kongens Have (King’s Park) with the Renaissance castle Rosenborg Slot – home of the Danish crown jewels.
More Art Near Copenhagen
Three very popular modern art museums are amongst the most popular day-trip destinations from Copenhagen:
- The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (may easily be combined with Helsingør (Kronburg / Hamlet’s Castle) and / or Fredriksborg Castle) is one of the top contemporary art museums in the world.
- Arken Museum of Modern Art has huge exhibitions a few times per year in addition to its smaller permanent collection.
- Ordrupgaard – particularly strong on impressionists and late-19th-century, early 20th-century artists is in the northern outskirts of Copenhagen.