The Best of Danish Modernism

During the years around the First World War, Danish artists orientated themselves towards ideas from abroad and established a radical break with the previous art traditions in Denmark. We can now present works by leading figures of this groundbreaking period, such as Jais Nielsen, Vilhelm Lundstrøm and J.F. Willumsen.

These artists enabled the ideas behind international avant-garde art movements of the day, such as Cubism, Expressionism and Futurism, to manifest themselves in Danish art. The field was broad, and there was room for both an optimistic belief in progress and at the opposite end of the field an attempt to move away from the modern world and towards more universally human and spiritual values. Despite many different statements and expressions, a common goal for the artists across national borders was a showdown with the traditional concept of visual art based on naturalistic and central perspective principles. The artists wanted to create contemporary art that expressed itself through an experimental use of materials and an innovative idiom. Not surprisingly, the artists shocked the Danish cultural scene that was characterized by a certain degree of conservatism at the time.

Self-portrait of Jais Nielsen

One of the Danish Modernists was Jais Nielsen, who at this auction is represented with a powerful self-portrait from 1916. It was this year that he had to leave Paris due to the First World War, but he returned home to Denmark with his suitcase full of inspiration and artistic drive. He has portrayed himself wearing a smock and sitting on a balcony in a fragmented, Cubist cityscape. In his hand, he holds a tool and an unfinished vase, and the work can be seen as the artist's desire to juxtapose two artistic forms in his work, namely visual art and ceramic art. Jais Nielsen created some of the key works of Danish Modernism, such as "Afgang” (Departure) from 1918, but in his own lifetime, he achieved much more acclaim for his ceramic works with biblical motifs.

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Cubist Still Life by Vilhelm Lundstrøm

Vilhelm Lundstrøm was also one of the key figures in early Danish Modernism. With his artwork, he breathed life into one of the most pervasive cultural battles ever seen in Denmark. The so-called "Dysmorphism Debate" had the physician Carl J. Salomonsen as its instigator, and he attacked modern art and diagnosed it as an infectious mental disorder. Seen from the vantage point of today, such a violent reaction to art may seem comical – especially when you look at Lundstrøm’s beautiful, harmonious and Cubist still life (1932-33) with a pitcher, comport and napkin on a blue background.

Vilhelm Lundstrøm: "Opstilling. Opsats, hvid kande og en serviet. Blå baggrund" (Still life. Comport, white pitcher and a napkin. Blue background) (1932-33). Signed. Oil on canvas. 81 x 66 cm. Estimate: DKK 800,000-1,000,000
Kai Nielsen: "Aarhuspigen” (The Aarhus Girl) (1921). Signed. No. III. Green patinated bronze. Estimate: DKK 1 million.

“Aarhuspigen” up for Auction

When it comes to sculptural art in Denmark, Lundstrøm’s contemporary Kai Nielsen stands as the great innovator. He also turned away from the naturalistic idiom and instead focused his attention on the work of sculptors such as Auguste Rodin and Constantin Meunier, whose sculptures he could examine closely in the collection of the Glyptotek. Despite his short life (he died at the age of 41 in 1924), Kai Nielsen was an extremely prolific artist and was especially known for his artistic decoration of the Blågårds Plads square in Copenhagen and a series of erotic female sculptures. At the auction, we have a version of the beautiful “Aarhuspigen” (The Aarhus Girl) from 1921, which you can also see at Aarhus’ major sports stadium. For many years the sculpture was also part of the decor in the well-known clothes shop "Nørgaard på Strøget".

Dining with the Willumsen Family

J.F. Willumsen has rightly been called the most "provocative personality" in Danish art. He stood out with his symbolic, stylized idiom and shrill colours, and left behind a uniquely cohesive body of work. His restless creative spirit led him all over Europe, and his role models were Paul Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec and El Greco. In the present work “Aftensuppe” (Evening Soup), 1917, we are invited to dine with the Willumsen family, who resided in the South of France during the First World War. Sitting around the table is his wife Edith with her distinctive features and the two daughters, Ingemor Gersemi and Anne-Mathilde. The powerful triangular composition is dominated by the yellow colour, which is contrasted by the red dress of the eldest daughter. She turns in an unnatural way towards her mother, and her oversized arm and claw-like hand, together with the light of the ceiling lamp, create a tightened atmosphere that reverberates in several of Willumsen's expressive works. The artist is playing with the theme of the sacrament, and this is a preliminary study for the final work with the same title from 1918, which hangs in the J.F. Willumsen Museum.

J.F. Willumsen: "Aftensuppen” (The Evening Soup) (1917). Signed. Oil on canvas. 85 x 105 cm. Estimate: DKK 800,000-1,000,000.

"Lamplight. Edith and the two girls at the dinner table. Edith is serving the soup. The lamp shines like a sun above the figures. The price? Edith says I must not sell it [the finished version] for less than DKK 25,000, she will keep it herself if no one is willing to pay this price. I think it is one of my finest paintings.”

J.F. Willumsen in writing to his friend Alice Bloch in 1918.

Come by the Preview and Gallery Talks

View all the works before the auction at Bredgade 33 in Copenhagen from 21-25 November. During the preview, it will also be possible to listen to the modern art specialists Kathrine Eriksen and Niels Boe-Hauggaard talk about Danish Modernism on Sunday 24 November at noon at the same address.

Live Auction

Modern Art

4-5 December

For further information, please contact:

Niels Raben: +45 8818 1181 ·

Niels Boe Hauggaard: +45 8818 1182 ·

Kathrine Eriksen: +45 8818 1184 ·

Victor Svane Nielsen: +45 8818 1125 ·

Stephanie Ingemann-Petersen: +45 8818 1185 ·

Peter Beck (Aarhus): +45 8818 1186 ·

Simon Hyldig (Aarhus): +45 8818 1188 ·