In 1843 he began his studies at the Academy’s freehand drawing school, and the following year at the Academy’s plaster school. Home during the summer and holidays he busied himself by filling sketchbooks with studies of the local landscape, costumes and way of life. These formed a lifelong basis for his art. He also began collecting local folk costumes, another lifelong interest.
In 1844 Dalsgaard cames under the influence of Niels Lauritz Høyen, art historian, who held a famous lecture “On the conditions for a Scandinavian national art’s development” ("Om betingelserne for en skandinavisk nationalkunsts udvikling"). Høyen called for artists to search for subject matter in the folk life of their country instead of searching for themes in other lands, such as Italy (which was at that time considered a requirement for an artist’s training). Dalsgaard was a loyal follower of Højen’s artistic ideals, and forewent the customary journey to Italy, choosing rather to concentrate on themes closer to home.
He had his exhibition debut at Charlottenborg in 1847, and continued showing there every year with few exceptions.
He has his big breakthrough in 1856 with the painting "Mormoner på besøg hos en tømrer på landet" ("Mormons visit a country carpenter"). The painting, created only 6 years after the missionary’s arrival in Denmark, is set in the shadowed interior of a provincial cottage. A group of people are gathered around a table, listening to a missionary’s message. Light filters in through a small window and an open door. It is a study of contemporary daily life, carefully depicting the interior and costumes of the people in detail. The painting was donated to the Danish National Gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst) in 1871.
He married Hansine Marie Hansen on August 21, 1857. The newlyweds purchased a house in Frederiksberg. Their circle of social acquaintances included Constantin Hansen, Niels Lauritz Høyen, Wilhelm Marstrand, P.C. Skovgaard, Vilhelm Kyhn, Godtfred Rump, Frederik Vermehren og Julius Exner.
He received the Academy’s Neuhausen's prize (Neuhausens præmie) in both 1859 and 1861.
He began teaching drawing at Sorø Academy in 1862.
He was selected to become and became a member of the Academy of Art in 1872.
He exhibited at the World Exhibition in Paris for the first time in 1878.
He painted his famous painting "I wonder when he will come home" (Mon han dog ikke skulle komme?) in 1879. This painting is typical of his style. The picture features a young woman standing in an open doorway looking off to one side. One foot is on the doorframe, and one foot is on the ground outside. The interior is dark and shadowed. The outside is a sunlit agrarian landscape. The title of the painting refers to her inner dialogue.
In 1890 he finished the first of 21 small Bible pictures, a project which he continued to work on for the next ten years.
He was named a professor at the Academy of Art in 1892, and quit his position at Sorø Academy.
In 1914 the artist’s widow contributed a portion of his folk costume collection to the National Museum. She died in Sorø that same year on November 3. The National Museum acquired the remainder of the folk costume collection in 1921.
Christen Dalsgaard, like his contemporaries Julius Exner and Frederik Vermehren, painted primarily genre paintings, national romantic folk scenes rooted in the grasslands of Jutland. He paid great attention to details– folk costumes, manners and habits of the people, architecture and landscape. He was a storyteller. His artistic works, as well as those of his contemporaries helped open the way for more realistic paintings in the late 1800’s. A collection of his work can be found at the Skive Art Museum. Other paintings can be found, among other museums at the National Museum of Art.