PART II: Hygge Land!

Museum Explorations

Friday-Friday, November 24-December 1, 2017

We tend to peruse guide books and websites both prior and during any travel we do. Of course, just experiencing a different area no matter where its location offers a different perspective on life; and, museums often provide an easy method for absorbing some of those views.

So, we typically hunt and peck our way through information identifying sites of interest, some appealing to both, some appealing to one while for the other, not so much. Think MDTs (Max’s Disaster Tours)…

But, in this fair city we toured together with several art museums top of our list. I’ll try not to delve too deeply into each one, so below is a recap of our strolls through some of Copenhagen’s artistic collections.

My photos do not present the best renditions, so I suggest checking online if interested in a specific piece of art. Some of the pieces are glorious.

Oh, and beware. This is loaded with art so skip if not interested!



The first covered one of Denmark’s most famous sculptors, Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844). From the son of an Icelandic wood-carver who settled in Denmark to sculptor of the rich and famous, Thorvaldsen became Denmark’s first internally renowned artist. He achieved this fame thanks to an early admittance to Copenhagen’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts at age 11, a subsequent scholarship to Rome in 1797, and a sculpture he created six years later, Jason and the Golden Fleece (1803).


The Italian sculptor AntonioCanova (1757-1822), a famous sculptor himself (he created a provocative statue of Napoleon Bonaparte’s scandalous second sister, Pauline, now in Rome’s Borghese Gallery) saw Thorvaldsen’s study for the above sculpture and became a fan of the young Dane. During this time Thorvaldsen received a commission from a wealthy Englishman, Thomas Hope, which led to his staying in Rome, establishing not one, but, five bustling studios with assistants and pupils, and chiseling his way to the top (although it’s noted his assistants did most of the actual marble carving while he sketched and touched up the work).

During this time orders poured in as he became a superstar in sculpting. Think Pope Pius VII, Napoleon, Tsar Alexander just to name a few. He finally returned to Denmark for good in 1838. There he continued his work and, having bequeathed his entire art collection to the Danish people in 1830, the city began work in 1937 on a building to hold Thorvaldsen’s donation. This became Denmark’s first museum according to the Museum’s own literature.

He died of heart failure attending the Royal Danish Theatre in 1844.  Upon the completion of the museum four years later his body was transferred from Copenhagen’s Church of our Savior (another city site we visited) to the Museum’s courtyard so Thorvaldsen could be surrounded by his art.

So, on a chilly day we made our way to the Thorvaldsen Museum and began exploring, basically having the place to ourselves. The architect designed the museum incorporating details from Thorvaldsen’s studio (high windows diagonally lighting the works) and classical colors of ancient cities such as Pompeii.

As we strolled through rows of small, linked galleries lining the circumference of the building, we were walking through a history lesson beginning with Greek and Roman mythology.

Lots of gods and goddesses, such as Zeus (in the form of an eagle) who abducts Ganymede to become the gods’ taster…

Commissioned pieces, such as this one of the Russian Princess Maria Fjodorovna Bajatinskaja (and good luck saying that fast)…

Many works of famous people, such as Lord Byron…

Bigger-than-life monuments…


And, a self-portrait of himself leaning on the Goddess of Hope’s head (ouch).

Oh, and a pose by my Jason whose clothes weren’t optional in this setting.

Continuing to the next floors we saw Thorvaldsen’s own art collection, which included many works by the Norwegian artist, J.C. Dahl, with whom Thorvaldsen developed a close friendship. They had met in Rome and the sculptor helped out the painter, purchasing quite a few of his paintings. In addition to traditional art, small rooms held other collectables, some mind-numbing such as his coin collections.

I had seen a snake ring where we picked up our audio guides.


Curious, because it was one of the few items for sale in the museum, I later noticed Thorvaldsen wearing it in several portraits, which explained the copy in the gift shop.


Evidently, he wore it for 20 years up to his death. If you peer closely at his statue you’ll see it, as well as in some portraits, one being by his friend, C.W. Eckersberg (more of him later).

Plaster casts populated the top floor, one being for the Zeus and Ganymede statue we saw on the ground floor:

Why so dirty one may ask? The Museum’s website explains that many of the statues are plaster formed from the original, damp clay forms, the latter subject to changing shape and cracking when drying. Plaster provides a more stable substance. These then serve as the models for the final bronze and marble works found here and in other parts of the world. Cleaning the plaster is possible but not always beneficial since it may cause some damage while also erasing some of the history, such as Thorvaldsen’s measuring marks.

I could delve so much more into this sculptor’s life and works. The Museum website offers a plethora of information. Just reading background on some of Thorvaldsen’s subjects can take you down a rabbit hole of history, but I’ll leave this to proceed to our next museum we visited during our time in Copenhagen. Yet, before I go, for anyone interested, check out the places where Thorvaldsen’s work resides:  Click here. You probably have seen one or two of his :)



Carl Jacobsen (1842-1914), founder of Ny (means ‘new’) Carlsberg brewery and son of the founder of the first Carlsberg brewery, followed in his dad’s footsteps, eventually setting the family business on the trajectory of becoming a booming conglomerate. While doing so this Dane became a huge philanthropist in Denmark. Due to his munificence Copenhagen holds a lot of treasures for the public, including one of the city’s most iconic symbol–The Little Mermaid statue by Danish sculptor Edvard Eriksen (1913).

Jacobsen’s avid interest in sculpture, believing it to be “the closest to the fundamental condition of mankind” (Glypotek website), led to a collection focusing on Greek and Roman sculpture and 19th century French and Danish work. Reading that he had one of the largest Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) collections outside of France I really wanted to go, which is how we landed in a lovely winter garden on another gray, cold day. The idea of installing a garden during one of the expansion phases in 1906 may have come from Jacobsen having opened up his own winter garden in 1882 to the public to display some of his collection. Wouldn’t mind having one of these in my house. Don’t you just want to grab something to sip and absorb the loveliness?

winter garden

The museum, called Glyptotek (which, appropriately, means ‘collection of sculptures’) was inaugurated in 1897 and morphed into a much larger entity over the years to house Jacobsen’s art collection (over 10,000 items) as well as special exhibits, such as the one we saw “Pharaoh – the Face of Power” covering Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2000-1700 B.C.E.)

One of the highlighted items in this special exhibit showcased the uniting of two pieces (one from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, one from this museum) to create the statue of the Crocodile God Sobek (use your imagination–hint: the snout is missing).

Fascinating but on to the permanent exhibits, of which there were many, many sculptures. Just check out this one gallery:


My photographs didn’t come out well, so here’s a small sampling of various artists’ works, both classical…

and not classical, including Rodin’s Burghers of Calais, which mesmerized me oh so many years ago in Washington, D.C.


During our tour we noticed students practicing their drafting. I tried to unobtrusively snap a shot of the one sketching in red and sadly, in so doing, the image blurred. Her rendition was amazing.


In addition to having tons of Rodins, the Glyptotek also has one of the four collections of  Edgar Degas’ (1834-1917)  small, working models cast in bronze from the original wax after his death. In a room at the top of a magnificent stairway

these little creatures certainly demonstrate Degas’ fascination with movement.

In the modern part of the museum a larger Degas sculpture stood peering, appropriately, at a group of Impressionists’ paintings. I later read this little ballerina was the one and only sculpture he ever showed. The Little Fourteen Year-Old Dancer originally appeared in wax with real hair and a tulle skirt at the 1881 Sixth Impressionist Exhibition. She made quite an impression but not all necessarily positive ones, which could be why Degas never exhibited another sculpture.

A running walk through the museum’s Eritrean/Phoenician/Greek items, exposed us to antiquity. A few exhibits caught my eyes such as this head shown in its current state juxtaposed with its original colors. These rooms required at least another two hours of intense viewing, time we didn’t allot due to museum-itis.


Again, I could continue following the white rabbit down the tunnel reading about these works, but I have one more art museum I want to cover in this post before you completely nod off.


Next to another royal castle, the lovely Rosenberg Slot, stands Denmark’s National Gallery named Statens Museum for Kunst (‘State Museum for Art’) aka SMK. Here we learned about (Du-uh) Danish artists. And, we actually saw it on a sunny day!

The museum features art collected by Danish royals, beginning with King Christian IV (1577-1648) whose name you’ll see in future posts. Other kings followed his interest in accumulating art resulting in the 1827 public opening of the Picture Gallery at Christiansborg Palace (the site where the Danish parliament and the guy-on-horse statue mentioned in my first post stands). Thanks to the substitution of democracy in place of Denmark’s absolute monarchy in 1849 the collection became state property.

A fire in 1884 meant the art needed another home, which is how the current National Gallery came to be, designed, no less by the same architect, Vilhelm Dahlerup, who designed the Glyptotek. Unfortunately, the new building was too small. This was exacerbated as it expanded to three collections–the initial Royal Collection of Paintings, the Royal Collection of Graphic Art, and the Royal Cast Collection, the latter greatly influenced by Carl Jacobsen. However, additions and renovations solved that problem resulting in a beautiful glass atrium as its lobby.

The Royal Collection of Paintings headed our list of interest, so off we strode and found ourselves immediately immersed in Danish art history. I’ll do a quick recap while highlighting some of the key figures. Once again we happily encountered some familiar names, such as the Funen Danish Painters we saw in the Faaborg Museum and Norwegian artists  whom we first encountered in Bergen two summers ago:  J.C. Dahl (1788-1857), Christian Krohg (1852-1925), Erik Werenskiold (1855-1938), and Edvard Munch (1863-1944). But, I’ll stick to the Danes for now.

Hold on ’cause here we go:

Mid-1700s, Establishing Danish Art

Many Danish royal heads, including King Frederik V (1723-1766), posed for the Swedish painter, Carl Gustaf Pilo (1711-1793) who served as the court painter for 20 years.

Frederik happened to be quite a playboy who liked his women and wine, or wine and women since he became an alcoholic; yet, he managed to have a monumental impact on his country’s art scene. Wanting to end Denmark’s reliance on foreign artists, Frederik V established the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1754.

Ironically, Pilo, who moved to Denmark because he couldn’t make a living in his own country, became one of the Academy’s professors and a director. The Swede must have been a good instructor because one of his pupils, Jens Juel (1745-1802) from the island of Funen, became a leading portraitist. Three, self-portraits highlight Juel’s artistic growth from student to respected artist.

With the Age of Enlightenment taking hold, neo-classicism emerged with its simpler lines and restraint, and Juel managed to adapt his style to the changing tastes. Whereas Pilo represented the Rococo period with its elaborate flourishes and elegance, Juel added a touch of realism to his paintings but still ensured his subjects looked good. Below is a family portrait of Niels Ryberg with his Son Johan Christian and his Daughter-in-law Engelke, nee Falbe.

One of Juel’s classmates, Nicolai Abilgaard (1743-1809), also embraced this move to neo-classicism. Both he and Juel spent time in Rome where Abilgaard actually used a Vatican statue as a model for one of his most famous pieces, Wounded Philocetes.

On a side note, prior to entering this gallery we had viewed a small exhibit featuring art on Denmark’s colonizing the West Indes. There we saw Abilgaard’s 1792 draft of a medal commemorating the Danish ban on the slave trade (although it took a decade before the ban became a reality).

The Academy self-propagated, as many ex-students returned to work at this art institute.  Abilgaard was hired as a professor and later served as the director, as did Juel. Both men influenced the next generation of Danish artists.

Early-mid 1800s, aka The Danish Golden Age 

Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1783-1853) has the distinction of being called “Father of Danish Painting”. He represented the Neo-Classicism movement.  Similar to the Dutch Golden Age in the 1600s, the rise of the Danish middle class during Eckersberg’s time meant artists had a bigger clientele beyond just the royals and the aristocracy.

He studied in Paris and in Rome (A View through Three Arches of the Third Storey of the Colosseum in Rome)

and captured historical events in Copenhagen, such as the 1807 fire due to a bombardment by Britain during the Napoleonic War.

Eckersberg became great friends with the Norwegian painter J.C. Dahl whose fascination with clouds may have rubbed off on the Danish artist. A cloud study painted by Eckersberg

is incorporated into one of his later passions:  maritime scenes.

He also was a friend of the sculptor Thorvaldsen, whose portrait he painted as well as Thorvaldsen’s Italian mistress (I need to add her country because he had a few).

Many artists travelled abroad eager to broaden their knowledge as documented by Constantin Hansen’s (1804-1880) A Group of Danish Artists in Rome.

In the 1820s and 30s artists enjoyed a rise in social status. During these Grand Tours paintings of artists at work, studying, and self-portraits became common. The latter provided families of sons studying abroad a way to remember them while also supplying free models for honing one’s skills.

Artists also paid homage to other artists with these portraits, as seen by C.E. Jensen’s portrait of C.W. Eckersberg.

This Father of Danish Painting influenced another famous Dane, Christen Købke (1810-1848). Entering the Academy at age 12, Købke created lovely, quiet landscapes seen as unpretentious. Generally quite small (less than 12″) they reflect his humility.  In a 2010 article he’s called the ‘Danish Master of Light’ (Laura Cumming,, March 28, 2010), and looking at the View of Dosseringen near the Sortedam Lake Looking towards Norrebro it’s easy to see why.

During the Danish Golden Age Denmark’s first art historian and critic appeared on the scene. Niels Laurits Høyen (1798-1870) believed art should be about the people and the nation, not just beauty; and, as a professor at the Academy he promoted this nationalistic approach. Thus, he favored the paintings of everyday scenes by Eckersberg over Abilgaard’s focus on classical and mythical themes.

However, the director of the Academy, Wilhelm Marstrand (1810-1873), who painted Høyen,

and who held that position in 1854-57 and again in 1863-73, felt otherwise. Those dueling opinions must have made for an interesting dynamic at the school, a discussion I would have loved to have heard.

Johan Thomas Lundbye (1818-1848) exemplified Høyen’s nationalism by painting Danish landscapes as seen below (North Zealand). This scene is actually a composite of several views because finding untilled land was difficult, even back then.

Herman Wilhelm Bisssen (1798-1868), Thorvaldsen’s most famous pupil, may have immortalized Lundbye in his 1850 statue Victorious Danish Soldier. Some say the face resembles Lundbye


who died in the war. Interesting factoid:  this statue is the first time a common soldier served as the figure for a military memorial as opposed to a goddess, general or monarch.

Elizabeth Jerichau Baumann (1819-1881) is another female artist presented in this collection. She studied in Germany, which made her a bit of an alien to other Danish painters. To me her 1846 portrait of her husband Jens Adolf Jerichau is wonderfully alive.

Shifting back to nationalism Frederic Vermehren’s (1823-1910) landscape of A Jutland Shepherd on the Moors features an interesting component. If you look closely you’ll see the shepherd knitting (!).


I’m including the next one due to the emotion the painter, Christian Dalsgaard (1824-1907), manages to depict. The title says it all:  The Village Carpenter Bringing a Coffin for a Dead Child. Can’t you just feel the anguish? How totally terrible.

The artist Carl Bloch (1834-1890) painted scenes bigger than life. Some criticized him for being too theatrical, while the current curator at SKM identifies Bloch as a forerunner to the historical epics produced in Hollywood with the exaggerated facial expressions and use of close-ups. I have to agree when looking at his In a Roman Osteria.

Kristian Zahrtmann (1843-1917) focused on historical scenes, yet didn’t support the nationalism movement and realism. Check out two of his scenes:  He admired Princess Leonara Christiana, the second daughter of Christian IV, who landed in jail due to her traitorous husband,

while depicting her dying sister-in-law, Queen Sophie Amalie, in a less favorable light.

This artist became extremely popular with students, encouraging them to find their own style.

At this point a leading female artist comes into play, Bertha Wegmann (1846-1926). Her portraits, such as the one of her sister Anna Seekamp, earned her the prestigious 1863 Thorvaldsen Medal. This painter became the first woman to hold a chair at the Academy. Two great achievements in a world dominated by men.

Michael Ancher’s  (1849-1927) The Lifeboat is Taken through the Dunes features common people as individuals versus treating them solely as tronies (anonymous figures). A bit unusual, too, to have someone facing off canvas.

Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958)’s majestic painting A Mountain Climber (actually his wife), to me, is stunning, one I’d love to have hanging in my house.

Another portrait of a wife was painted by Laurits Andersen Ring (1843-1933) at their French window. I could describe it using the museum’s write-up but, to me, it sounded too much of globbely-glook. You know me–a whiff of pretension produces a huge stink.

French impressionism began to make its way into Danish art towards the late 1800s. And, you can see a more modern look appear in paintings as seen by…

Ejnar Nielsen’s (1872-1956)  starkness and narrow range of colors in And in His Eyes I Saw Death. (The man in the picture was suffering from tuberculosis, a disease claiming many during the time of this painting 1897.)

and Edvard Munch’s (1863-1944) compositions like Workers on their Way Home.

The museum also featured an impressive, Henri Matisse collection including his famous portrait, The Green Line, of his wife Amélie.


At the end of one of the gallery halls we encountered a small room that turned out to be a drawing studio for young and old alike. This studio space provided paper and pencils as well as a model for all to test their skills. A super and appealing idea!


To come full circle I just want to end with one of those connections that can happen when traveling:  A painting we saw by Abilgaard, Ymer Sucking the Cow Audumbla (1777), in this museum

was the model over a 100 years later for the sculptor Kai Nielsen (1882-1924) whose sculpture we saw this summer in Faaborg’s town square and the Faaborg Museum.

But, enough is enough as our heads were on spin cycle.

To conclude I’m sure it’s obvious these three museums require much, much, MUCH more time than I’ve allocated here. I’ve just skimmed the surface, picking out areas in which we focused. Even then, my coverage is superficial.

Yet, I’m certain this leaves no doubt how much we enjoy learning about a country through its artists. Denmark being no exception.

Next, more Copenhagen touring :)