Remarkable Danes and their legacies

The history and origins of any museum is a significant part of it what it is, what it does, what it feels like to walk its halls, what it smells like, what kind of art it exhibits, and what kind of audience it attracts. We have investigated the origins of four museums that all exist today because of the singular lives of four Danes. We invite you to meet a tobacco manufacturer, a writer-cum-farmer, a Francophile provocateur, and a brewer, who all continue to influence Danish art and culture through their remarkable legacies.
Friday, January 8, 2016

Heinrich Hirschsprung: Tobacco manufacturer and art patron
Heinrich Hirschsprung (1836 – 1908) was a Danish tobacco manufacturer. In 1852, when he was 22 years old, Heinrich and his brother took over their father’s tobacco shop located in Hotel D’Angleterre. The brothers expanded into cigar making, and soon enjoyed a prosperous business. Heinrich spent a great deal of his fortune on art. In 1888, Heinrich’s collection of Danish paintings was so extensive that he agreed to exhibit at Charlottenborg, displaying works of around 60 Danish artists. Already at this point in time, it was evident that the collection had its own distinctive character, counting a portrait gallery in which Hirschsprung attempted to gather the most significant artists from the Danish Golden Age and onwards. Following the great success of the Charlottenborg exhibition, he decided to keep expanding the collection with a view to transfer it to public ownership. In 1911, The Hirschsprung Collection opened its doors to the public.

Karen Blixen: Writer and coffee farmer
Karen Blixen (1885 – 1962) wrote works in Danish, English and French under the pseudonyms of Isak Dinesen, Pierre Andrézel, and others. In 1914, she married her cousin, Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke, and travelled with him to Kenya to establish and direct a coffee plantation. Her famous non-fiction work Out of Africa (1937) displays her love for Africa, tracking the ups and downs of her life on the farm. Blixen was shortlisted for the 1962 Nobel Prize in literature, and Orson Welles adapted her short story “The Immortal Story” to the screen in 1968. The Karen Blixen Museum in Rungstedlund is the country house in which she was born, and the place she returned to upon leaving Nairobi. From here she mentored aspiring young writers who were eager to receive her brutally honest advice. She encouraged Thorkild Bjørnvig to go to Paris to write without his wife and son, seeing that “if you want to explore the world and find the Holy Grail, bringing a pram along is no good.”

J.F. Willumsen: Painter and agent provocateur
Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958) was a Danish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramist, architect and photographer. Known as one of Denmark’s most radical artists, Willumsen spent his life travelling across, and breaking down, boundaries. In 1888 he experienced The French Art Exhibition in Copenhagen, and soon relocated to Paris to be further inspired by the French art scene. Like many other young artists in the 1880’s, Willumsen was dissatisfied with the Royal Danish Academy’s lack of innovative thinking (also he flunked the final exam three times).Therefore he sought out more radical environments, and in 1891 he co-founded Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, with a view to establish an alternative to the censored spring exhibition at Charlottenborg, with the Salon des Refusés in Paris as his role model. The J.F. Willumsen Museum, which was founded in 1957, contains a large collection of the artist’s own works, as well as Willumsen’s private collection of Danish and foreign art.

Carl Jacobsen: Brewer and philanthropis
Glyptoteket was established by brewery magnate Carl Jacobsen (1842-1914), son of the founder of Carlsberg Breweries, with the intention of sharing his love of art with the citizens of Copenhagen. Especially fond of sculpture, Jacobsen commenced his collection in 1878 with the purchase of “La musique”, a marble sculpture by E. Delaplanche. Only four years later, his collection was sizeable enough to be exhibited in the winter garden of Ny Carlsberg. He named it ‘Glyptotheket’, denoting his admiration of Greek sculpture, as the word glypto means to carve, and theke means storing place. Still today, Glyptoteket’s main focus is antique sculpture from Egypt, Rome and Greece, but also boasts an impressive French impressionist painting collection. Jacobsen travelled the world to make exquisite purchases, and was a frequent buyer from works shown in the Paris Salon (the exhibition J.F. Willumsen opposed). Fun fact: In 1909, Jacobsen commissioned sculptor Edvard Eriksen to create The Little Mermaid.


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Article by

Denise Rose Hansen