Metamorphoses. Modern Myths in Danish Art 1900-1950

Metamorphoses. Modern Myths in Danish Art 1900-1950



Three Danish art museums are highlighting Danish visual art which emerged in the first half of the 20th century in the period after early Danish modernism but before the COBRA movement’s more abstract experimentation. While both modernism and COBRA are well documented in Danish art history and their output held in museum collections is on permanent display, there has been much less attention on the work of mid-century artists. It has often been suggested that this work is in search of a ‘style’ and in some ways this is evident through their conversations with the emerging modern welfare state in Denmark.


The idea has a basis both in the making of large commissions and in individual work, for example in the work of painters William Scharff, Vilhelm Lundstrøm and Axel Salto along with sculptors Kai Nielsen and Gerhard Henning. Nudes, healthy bodies, motherhood, biology and mythology provide the subjects for these artists wrestling with the concept of the modern welfare state. The period is rich in art works of mothers and children and liberated bodies surrounded by the natural world.


Post World War I artists had looked back in time for fresh inspiration, especially to the stylistic cues of Italian Renaissance classicism and the fecund forms of the Baroque period through which artists took it upon themselves to reconstruct civil society. The work, particularly that of William Scharff and Kai Nielsen, show METAMORPHOSES, shining examples of re-imaginings of classical art striving to understand the new world order. Many motifs of metamorphosis, often inspired by examples from Antiquity, symbolically show the artists’ contribution to the welcome social changes.


The artists’ motivation to challenge the meaning of society sees the most important work of the period such as large commissioned pieces located outdoors in parks and gardens, as well as indoors in public buildings, but not in Danish art museums. In Faaborg and the surrounding area, there are examples of sculpture such as the ‘Faaborg Girl’ (Faaborg Stadion) and the ‘Danaë’ (Royal Garden, Odense) both by Gerhard Henning as well as Kai Nielsen’s ‘Ymerbrønd’ (the main square, Faaborg).


The exhibition and the research behind it is a joint venture together with Fuglsang Kunstmuseum (Lolland) and Ribe Kunstmuseum (Jutland).


An accompanying, illustrated book with articles (in Danish) by Gertrud Hvidberg-Hansen, Gertrud Oelsner and Rasmus Kjærboe was published 30 January 2015.


Fuglsang Kunstmuseum 30.1.15 – 15.5.15


Ribe Kunstmuseum 6.6.15 – 20.9.15

Kai Nielsen, Venus og Paris, Kærlighedspar, 1917. Statens Museum for Kunst.