Kai Nielsen – Born of Everyday Life

Kai Nielsen – Born of Everyday Life



The works of the Danish sculptor Kai Nielsen (1882-1924) are forming the focal point for a collaborative exhibition project involving Faaborg Museum and the Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen – two special exhibitions, which run in parallel at the two museums.

Faaborg Museum and The Carlsberg Glyptotek have extensive collections of Kai Nielsen’s sculptures and sketches, which are presented in the exhibition alongside loans from museums and private collections in Denmark and Norway.

Despite the popularity of several of his works, Kai Nielsen is largely unknown, even though his works can be seen in a number of public spaces in Denmark: for example, on Blågårds Plads in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen, and on the town square in Faaborg (the sculpture Ymir’s Well). He is perhaps best known for the small ornaments and statuettes he designed for the Danish porcelain companies Bing & Grøndahl and Kähler, and for Dansk Kunsthandel.

Muscle men, mythology and motherhood
Kai Nielsen (1882 – 1924) was fascinated by the human body. His themes included both strong male bodies with the ideal physique of antiquity as a role model and female figures inspired by ancient mythology like Aphrodite, but he was also dedicated to everyday motifs: for example, Girl Fiddling with Her Toes, statuettes of children, and busts of his family and of famous athletes, artists and art collectors of his day.

Kai Nielsen’s endeavour to depict ‘what is natural’ and make his works accessible invests his art with a down-to-earth, popular quality. At the same time, his sculptures feature references to mythological and ancient stories.

Studying the body
Kai Nielsen was born and raised in Svendborg. There was something both down-to-earth and lofty about Kai Nielsen. This was reflected in the quasi-mythological story of Kai the sculptor and human being, to which his family, friends and acquaintances all contributed. He possessed a sparkling sense of humour, great charisma, superhuman willpower and manic industriousness, despite his rather frail constitution and poor health.

“It takes a healthy body to make healthy art,” was one of the mottos of the artist from Funen. This was a conviction he took literally. Persistently, he modelled the human body, while training his own. He rowed, swam, boxed, rode, fenced and wrestled, and hiked in the mountains of Norway, the home country of his wife, the painter Yanna Lange Kielland Holm (1880-1932). He fought an eternal battle between health and illness and, after several years of illness and operations, died in 1924 at the early age of 41.

The exhibition is accompanied by book about Kai Nielsen in both Danish and English. The book can be bought online and at the museum shop.