The collapse of a major bank, Landsmandsbanken, in 1922 and the worldwide recession that hit Denmark in 1930 formed the backdrop of the art created in the period 1920-40.
The two decades were also characterised by a new wave of humanist sentiments, growing democracy, and social reform. Monumental art may be seen as culture’s response to the democratic yearnings. It was time to bring high culture out to the people. Lundstrøm’s simple, geometrically founded compositions are among the strongest proponents of the monumental tendency evident in Danish art created at this time.
The economic recession and the advent of fascist movements in Southern Europe infused the cultural debate of the 1930s. Opposing sides became clearly demarcated. Conservative forces on one side confronted revolutionary, often Marxist sympathisers on the other. The architect and writer Poul Henningsen became a leading figure in the cultural debate, breaking with petty bourgeois norms, which he regarded as the core of nazism’s cultural programme, and defending a rational, socially responsible, international modern style with Lundstrøm’s art as a perfect example.
The artists’ association Corner, which numbered painters such as Raadal, Bovin, and Hartz, became an important forum for landscape art, which experienced a revival in the early 1930s.
These artists shared a mainly naturalistic idiom. They sought for the down-to-earth and the mundane, finding their subject matter in small local communities or in the Danish countryside.
The landscape painters include Jens Søndergaard, who found many of his subjects in the north-western region of Jutland. Søndergaard’s paintings represent an expressive mode of art rooted in the artist’s native soil and as such have a kinship with the art of the German Expressionist Emil Nolde, but also with the painting of the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, whose pictures took on new relevance to the Danish artists of the 1930s.
Focus on Surrealism
Surrealism first arose in France and spread to several other European countries in the 1930s; the movement represents a third – avant-garde – direction with the art of the period. The Surrealists regarded themselves as revolutionaries and as linked to the political left. In 1935 the Danish Surrealist Wilhem Freddie wrote: “Surrealism means revolution within art, within everything … Our foundations are the universally human, the subconscious, instincts, dreams. There, all human beings are alike.”
The first examples of Surrealist art in Denmark date back to around 1930. The ideas were mainly conveyed through the journal LINIEN. Bjerke-Petersen,who edited the journal from 1934 onwards (initially alone and later together with Bille and Mortensen), played a key role in the dissemination of Surrealist ideas in Denmark. He was also the main driving force behind the journal KONKRETION, he arranged exhibitions of international Surrealist art, and published books on Surrealism.
The Danish Surrealist scene soon became divided: In 1934 it split into two competing stylistic variants. On the one side stood the figurative and strictly programmatic Surrealism of Freddie and Bjerke-Petersen, and on the other side the abstract, less ideological Surrealism of Mortensen and Bille. The latter movement became an important founding factor for the abstract-spontaneous painting of the 1940s.
Among the Danish Surrealist painters Wilhelm Freddie stands out as the most uncompromising and persistent. Even though he himself claimed that his Surrealist period lasted from around 1930 to around 1954 Surrealist ideas nevertheless remained the conceptual basis for later stages of his art. In addition to painting Freddie’s art spans several media, including drama, set designs, costume design, film, object art, and collage.