The only thing one of Europe's most prominent portrait painters learned from an art teacher was to paint the canvas dark before beginning to paint so "you can see the light." The rest of Knud Edsberg's painting expertise has been self-taught and self-learned through 78 years of experience - and prayer.
"Since I was a child, I have always asked Heavenly Father for help with my painting," the Copenhagen, Denmark, native said through his son, Sorene, who acted as interpreter. "I knew how the painting should be, but sometimes I did not know how to actually do it. I have often prayed and asked for help and guidance."Raised in a Protestant religion, Edsberg believed in God but had been looking for "something more" for many years. When he first met the missionaries and heard the discussions at age 50, "it was a revelation to me; it was what I was searching for," he explained. Edsberg, along with his son and daughter, joined the Church in 1961. His wife, who died seven years ago, was baptized in 1975.
Edsberg, a member of the North Sjaelland (Denmark) Ward, has served faithfully in the Church since his conversion, but his greatest opportunity as a member of the Church occurred last year when he was commissioned by the Church Museum of History and Art to paint a portrait of President Ezra Taft Benson. "It was the highest honor I could think of to paint the most important man on earth," he observed. "I was thrilled."
President Benson met with Edsberg three times. The first time, "we met and got acquainted," Edsberg related. The second time, the prophet sat for two hours and then sat again for another hour and half on the third visit.
"It was a challenge," noted Edsberg. "I knew it had to be the best portrait I had done." In painting the picture, the artist wanted to capture the leader's commitment to both Church and country, as well as the strength of his personality. The completed painting has President Benson, scriptures in hand, with a flag and a statue of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the background. "I felt good about the final project," Edsberg said. "I was pleased."
The Church Museum of History and Art has also recently commissioned Edsberg to paint two additional portraits; one of Elder David B. Haight and one of Elder Marvin J. Ashton, both members of the Council of the Twelve.
Painting has always been a part of Edsberg's life. "I cannot remember a time, even as a child, that I did not want to paint. There was never any question in my mind that I would paint. Nothing else interested me."
When he was 14, Edsberg approached renowned European portrait painter Laurits Tuxen and asked for tutelage. It was from Tuxen that Edsberg learned to paint his canvas dark. Tuxen agreed to teach the young boy, but told him he must first learn a trade. Edsberg spent four years painting houses, only to discover that Tuxen had died. "So my father taught himself," concluded Sorene Edsberg.
Edsberg has, however, shared his knowledge as an artist and portrait painter with others. He has taught in Denmark schools, as well as private tutoring.
Although Edsberg is well-known for his portraits, he does not restrict himself to that genre. "He paints everything," explained Sorene, who currently teaches art at BYU. "He specializes in illustrating Danish life. Sometimes that is portraits, sometimes it is landscapes."
It's not the subject of a painting that is important to Edsberg, but the feeling the piece evokes. "One of my favorite paintings is a small bridge in Norway," Edsberg noted. "It's the impression the piece gives you that is important.
"When colors, surroundings and subjects combine to produce a fine piece, I am happy. It's a great feeling when I find something that really excites me and then I am able to paint it."