Born in Copenhagen, Skovgaard was the son of the notable Danish Golden Age painter P.C. Skovgaard. Like his brother Joakim, he was introduced to art by his father who encouraged him to paint in the open air. Janus la Cour, who lived in the Skovgaard home, was also a source of inspiration for him. He attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1874 to 1879 but left without receiving a diploma.
Unlike his brother, he was not attracted by the modern painting trends in France despite a visit to Paris in 1883. He was more interested in the styles of painting he experienced in the Netherlands which induced him to paint landscapes on the North Sea coast which showed his mastery of light and air together with a sensitive approach to colour. Nevertheless, he was to some extent influenced by the Barbizon School. His Svære dønninger ved Jyllands vestkyst depicting waves on Jutland's west coast can be considered an example of Symbolism although he generally adopted the Naturalist idiom.
From 1884, together with Thorvald Bindesbøll and his siblings, he began to design glazed ceramics while he developed his interest in sculpture from 1887 with Aage og Else (1887) and Magnusstenen (1898). He became increasingly interested in classical Greek sculpture, spending years trying to reconstruct the figures from the west pediment of Olympia's Temple of Zeus. He also worked on female figures dancing in Megara as can be seen in his painting Trata - Kvindedansen i Megara (1923) in the Skovgaard Museum. Like his brother Joakim, he also created a number of religious works including the altarpiece Dåben på pinsedag (Baptism on Easter Day, 1905) in the Immanuel Church, Frederiksberg. In 1931, he created the statue of N.F.S. Grundtvig in Vartov, Copenhagen, considered to be a masterpiece of Danish sculpture.
- "Niels Skovgaard" (in Danish). Dansk Bibliografisk Leksikon. Retrieved 22 October 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
- "Niels Kristian Skovgaard (1858-1938)" (in Danish). Skovgaard Museet. Retrieved 22 October 2014.
- "Niels Skovgaard" (in Danish). Den Store Danske. Retrieved 22 October 2014. Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
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