This Painting Of The Danish Royal Family Will Steal Your Soul

For the first royal family portrait in 125 years, Denmark's Queen Margrethe II turned to painter Thomas Kluge. Four years later, this is what she got back.

Landing a commission to paint the portrait of a royal family is a blessing that is bestowed upon few artists. It is an important honor that not only bestows the crown's blessing upon an artist, acknowledging his or her craftsmanship. It's also a promise of immortality: paint this portrait and your work will hang on the walls of museums and palaces for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

The latest artist to be so honored may end up immortalized for other reasons entirely. When the Queen of Denmark opted to commission the first royal family portrait in almost 125 years, she turned to Thomas Kluge, a largely self-taught Danish portrait painter whose inspirations are said to include Rembrandt and Caravaggio. After four years of work, Kluge's finished painting is finally here: an inexplicably creepy portrait that reimagines the royal family as a clan of sadists, transvestites, and malevolent pigmen whose abominable ruttings have brought into the world a brood of Damien-like progeny.

According to the Danish Royalty's official website, the Queen of Denmark and her family wanted Kluge to paint a royal family portrait similar to Fredensborgbillege, a painting by Lauren Tuxen that showed King Christian IX and Queen Louise with their extended royal family in the 1880s. Kluge's finished painting, Kongehuset however, appears to be a different piece entirely: the sort of painting that would look more at home as the inside front cover of a V.C. Andrews paperback than hanging on a palace wall for the next 100 years.

Reading between the lines, it appears that the Royal Family may be aware that Kluge's finished portrait is, er, unconventional. The official website of the Danish Royal Collection takes pains to explain that Kluge's work is "a kind of magic realism," and that this painting in particular reveals almost an alternate universe where "the precise depiction of humans ... challenges the interpretations of the spectator, as they encompass something other and deeper than immediate, accurate likeness."

This makes a lot of sense. How else to explain Kluge's painting?

We begin with Queen Margrethe II, a matriarch who has been painted by Kluge with all of the graceful femininity of Tubbs from the BBC's League of Gentlemen. Next to her sits her swollen husband, Henrik, who has been captured with such close attention to detail that you can actually see the meat sweats diffusing through his skin-tight velvet suit. Note also the tumor or possible herpes sore disfiguring Henrik's upper lip, which Kluge has made sure to render with nearly Rembrandt-like fidelity.

In the lower left-hand corner, Princess Isabelle rocks back and forth on the floor, staring with milk-white eyes into the distance as she purses her black lips and slowly twists her dolly's head off. To the right, young princes Nikolai and Felix build the metaphorical tower of blood that they must eventually climb to take the Danish throne for their own. But they will not ascend to claim their crimson thrones unchallenged. To get there, they must first defeat Prince Christian, the second heir to the throne, whom Kluge depicts as the 1,000-year-old Satanic dwarf in the center of the painting. But the prince will not easily be killed: he has splintered his soul between seven horcruxes, each of which has been hidden as a sort of Easter egg within Kluge's masterpiece. Can you find them all?

If you would like to have your soul stolen by Kluge's Danish royal portrait in person, Kongehuset is on exhibit at Copenhagen's Amelienbourg Museum from now until March 2, 2014.

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28 Comments

  • Romeo Cologne

    Lighten up! It is a wonderful expression of this royal family's sense of humor and shows an un-typical playfulness other official portraits lack.

  • krizzlingo

    If we removed the oversized kid from the center, it would be a much better portrait. The lighting on that child comes from below and adds to the creepy vibe. Think about it. Now where's my eraser tool...

  • Klavs Ejsing

    I disagree…

    Without this particular violation of the Rembrandt Lighting, would there be
    any discussion? I think this is a calculated drop into the uncanny valley
    and the artist has been on the edge several times already.

    I think, without knowing of course, that the artist and the Danish Court
    shares a certain morbid outlook.

    It is all a bit private and leaves us guessing, but be that as it may.

    The first genuine notice of its mentally unsettling qualities seems to
    have occurred overseas (was it here?), but media and public debates in
    Denmark has shown a strange reluctance to discuss this picture to begin
    with, and that has nothing to do with fear of lese majesty.

    In a sense the pictures impact and justification is about a small nation and people at the crossroad of globalization. The dead silence and nausea nationally was perhaps about fear of losing another uniting comfort zone, here embodied as a "doomed" royal family.

  • krizzlingo

    Interesting, but my comment is completely separate from the artist's intent. I am merely referring to the most obvious element in the painting - the one that is most out of place. And in regards to that lighting, the child in the center is the only one who has a light source reflecting off the left side of his face. Again, because of this element -the central element- the painting's feel is completely altered. And my point was, if this was removed, or scaled back to be in proportion with the rest of the family, there would be less controversy.

  • Elaine

    leaving the painting aside, I'd like to ask the writer of this article why his birds are irate; irate is a temporary thing. Would you not prefer to say irritable, irascible, bad-tempered..............that's much better English. And why would this "steal your soul?" - it simply doesn't make any sense. It's not going to steal your heart, that's for sure, but what DO you mean by "steal your soul"?

  • Quezz

    Maybe we should accept that the very idea of royalty is creepy all by itself? Didn't we go through this when Kate Middleton's portrait came out?

  • Duo Duo Zhuang

    Dear Thomas Kluge

    I have just been to Amalienborg to see your new painting " The Royal Family " . The painting is in my view several weaknesses , especially one : inconsistency . It is a major problem because the context of a naturalistic group portrait is crucial .

    Your " Royal Family " is inconsistent because:

    1. The light coming from different directions . It makes all the characters separated from each other. For example, Prince Christian as the centrally located little boy , light from his left, right and bottom , while the others have the light from different directions.

    Laurits Tuxen's painting " King Christian IX and Queen Louise with family in the Garden Room at Fredensborg " which will be called " Fredensborg picture "in my following text, in the beautiful book " Back to Fredengsborg " (2013) by Christian Thygesen Fønss (p.44), Here can be seen how the main light falls from the left window and sheds light on the whole group. It keeps the group together.

    H. M. Queen Margrethe notes also in the book " Tilbage til Fredensborg / Back to Fredengsborg " on " Fredensborg picture " (p. 173) , " ... the lighting is focused on the whole composition . "

    2. Your " Royal Family " has no harmony in color. Let me take Laurits Tuxen's " Portrait Study of Crown Princess Louise and Princess Thyra " as a counter- example . Portrait study is a preliminary study for " Fredensborg picture " which can be seen in the book

    " Tilbage til Fredensborg / Back to Fredengsborg " (p.64) . Crown Princess Louise goes in red dress . The red color reflects on her face , arm , hand and Princess Thyra's cheek. Just like I have something of yours, you have something of mine . You may see such color relations in Tuxen’s " Fredensborg picture " every where , in this way, even people go in very different kinds of clothes , such a color relation makes harmony , and keeps the group together.

    3. You arrange the characters' contour almost identical. As if all people are cut in the paper, then you paste them on the canvas. There is inadequate correlation between them . They are separate and seems dead . Again, we can look at Tuxen " Fredensborg Picture" as a counterexample . The contours are very varied, somewhere emphasized, elsewhere withdrawn in the background or completely disappeared. In " Fredensborg picture" there are thousands of lines and contours that merge into each other. It creates space, and makes the painting as a whole.

    4. The way you paint - as evidenced by Thygesen Christian Fønss book " Tilbage til Fredensborg / Back to Fredensborg " (p.102-134) - is "from part to part " . It's hard to get the painting as a whole. When you draw or paint a portrait, regardless one person or a group, you need always thinking of a whole, from the beginning until the end , the whole process of painting is similar to developing photo in the old day.

    Painting is about a thousand things, I have here highlighted only one thing " the whole" . No correlation is a major problem in your painting " The Royal Family " .

    You work hard og serious, but you are lack of some basic knowlege and training in . . drawing , colour , perspective , anatomy ...…

    You would like to learn something , but it was a pity that you were refused three times to enrol the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts .

    Sincerely,

    Duo Duo Zhuang
    www.dodoz.com

  • jbspry

    If I ordered a steak and was served a piece of meat that was as badly mistreated as the royal family is in this painting I'd call for the maître d'...

  • section9

    I swear to God, people are going to want closeups of this if only to find the "666" cleverly hidden in the portrait.
    IT IS ALIVE......

  • GaboonViper67

    This article is one of the few (maybe 2) who do not repeat verbatim what this painting means. I want to know about the background. Who are those people back there? Why is the building in ruins? Anyone know?

  • $4485292

    So somebody made a photomontage and simply copied it laboriously. Good job. Give yourself a pat on the back.

  • Scott Mitchell

    Immediately reminds me of Goya's Charles IV of Spain and His Family. Non-traditional lighting, reimagining the power structure, nonchalant staging, farcical features. All of it. On the one hand it's interesting, but on the other, I feel like this has been done before.