Nicolai Wilhelm Marstrand, painter and illustrator, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, to Nicolai Jacob Marstrand, instrument maker and inventor, and Petra Othilia Smith. Marstrand is one of the most renowned artists belonging to the Golden Age of Danish Painting.
Marstrand studied at Copenhagen's Metropolitan School (Metropolitanskolen), but had little interest in books, and left around 16 years of age. Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, painter and professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) in Copenhagen, was a close friend of Wilhelm's father, and it was to all appearance Eckersberg who recommended an artistic career for young Wilhelm. Wilhelm had already shown artistic talent, tackling difficult subjects such as group scenes with many figures and complicated composition.
At 16 years of age Marstrand thus began his studies at the Academy under Eckersberg, attending the school from 1826 to 1833. Although his interests had a firm hold in genre themes – depiction of the daily life he observed around him in Copenhagen's streets, especially middle class society – he would soon reach for the pinnacle of Academic acceptability: the history painting.
History painting displayed what was grand – classical themes from mythology and history, rather than daily life. The traditions, and the taste of traditional art critics, strongly favored it. It was therefore something to strive for, in spite of Marstrand's equal skill at depicting more modest themes, and of the enjoyment he had in portraying the crowds, the diversions of the city, and the humor and story behind the hustle and bustle. Marstrand's creative production would, through many paintings and illustrations made not only during the 1830s but throughout his life, never abandon this inclination toward displaying the simple life of his times.