Born at the end of the “golden age” of Danish painting, Monsted can be described as a product of that era. A landscape painter renowned for the clarity of light common to the painters of that age, his naturalistic “plain air” view paintings made Monsted the leading Danish landscapist of his age.
Monsted was born in Balle near Ganaa in eastern Denmark before moving to Copenhagen. Here he studied at the Academy between 1875 and 1876, under Andries Fritz (1828-1906), a landscape and portrait painter, and was taught figure painting by Julius Exner (1825-1910). Here too Monsted would have come across the paintings of artists such as Christen Kobke (1810-1848), an outstanding colourist and Pieter Christian Skorgaard (1817-1875), a romantic nationalist painter, a knowledge of whose paintings is seen in the Danish landscapes and beech forests of Monsted’s.
Monsted travailed extensively throughout his long career, being a frequent visitor to Switzerland, Italy and North Africa. As early as 1884, Monsted visited North Africa returning later in the decade.
The early years of the twentieth century saw Monsted returning to Switzerland, the south of France and Italy, the latter being the source of inspiration for many Scandinavian artists of the nineteenth century. The war years curtailed Monsted’s travel to Norway and Sweden, however the 1920’s and 1930’s saw Monsted return to the Mediterranean. Throughout his long career, Monsted continued to paint the Danish landscape and coastline. His is a romantic, poetic painting of nature; Monsted was an artist who depicted the grandeur and monumental aspect of the landscape, with a remarkable eye for detail and colour.
Monsted's wide ranging education helped him to assimilate the virtuoso techniques of academic naturalism but he transformed these devices to create a photo – realist artistic style all his own which won him great acclaim and affluence in his own life time. The entry on Monsted in the Weilbach Dansk Kunstnerleksikon eloquently characterises the artist’s achievement: ‘(Monsted's) great success was largely a consequence of his ability to develop a series of schematic types of landscape, which could each individually represent the quintessence of a Scandinavian, Italian, or most frequently Danish landscape. In motifs, built up around still water, trees and forest, he specialised in portraying the sunlight between tree crowns and the network of trunks and branches of the underwood, the reflections on the water of forest and sky and snow-laden winter landscape paintings with sensations of spring, often all together in the same painting. Insofar as Monsted included figures in his paintings, these were principally used as ornaments with a view to emphasising the idyllic character of the motif; and only rarely were the figures and the anecdotal element given as prominent a role as in traditional genre paintings.’