Jens Lund, Mon âme voltige sur les parfums…(Baudelaire), 1901. Part of the Jens Lund Collection, The Vejen Art Museum. Photo: Pernille Klemp

Hieroglyphs – Symbolist Drawings 1890-1910

In this exhibition we delve beneath the surface to explore inner realities. Discover works from a time when symbolism flourished in art and artists focused on matters of spirit, soul and form.

Directing their attention to the soul and humanity’s inner lives, artists such as J.F. Willumsen, Johannes Holbek and Jens Lund developed a new visual idiom in art as the nineteenth century drew to a close. This spring’s special exhibition homes in on the Symbolist movement, exploring the great significance of drawing in Danish art during this period.

Explore works from an era of Danish art where symbolism flourished and artists delved into matters of spirit, soul and form in their work. Witness dreams and visions taking shape as gnarly trees, serpentine flowers, closely entwined figures and pregnant women.

A revolt against an artistic dead end
In the late nineteenth century, a group of Danish artists become fed up with naturalism and its ideals of depicting reality in an objective, neutral manner. Some artists even believe that naturalism is an artistic dead end.

Their response is to turn to humanity’s inner life instead, to emotions and thoughts. Known as Symbolism, this mode of expression gives rise to pictures that are both decorative, mystical and enigmatic – often described as ‘soul pictures’ in Danish art.

Practical information

Exhibition period
19 April - 12 August 2018

Opening hours
Tuesdays – Sundays 11–17
Wednesdays 11–20
Mondays closed

Admission fee
Adults: DKK 110
Under 30: DKK 85
Under 18: Free
1 adult + 1 child: DKK 90
Annual pass holders: Free

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J.F. Willumsen, Fertility, 1891. The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, SMK

A new visual language

The new, unjuried exhibition venue Den Frie Udstilling was the one place where the Danish Symbolists could exhibit their works in the late nineteenth century. At the official opening of the venue in 1891, J.F. Willumsen exhibited the etching Fertility, shown above. It caused quite a scandal. 

The text on the picture is written in French. It says: ‘Old art has its old language that the world has gradually come to understand. New art has a newly created language that the world must learn in order to understand’.

The distortions of caricature

Ushering in a new mode of expression, several of the Danish Symbolists leave a strong imprint on the Danish art scene. They include Johannes Holbek, a prominent idealist and ‘angry young man’ of the age. 

He works as a satirical cartoonist for newspapers such as Politiken, using a wild and uncompromising style, and is greatly admired by fellow artists such as Storm P. and others. Much later, the prominent Danish artist Asger Jorn also proclaims himself an admirer, and in the 1980s he is rediscovered yet again by the poets and writers of the punk movement.

Johannes Holbek, The barber, 1901. The Royal Collection of Graphic Art, SMK

http://www.smk.dk/en/explore-the-art/the-royal-collections/700-years-of-art-and-art-history/about-the-collection-of-graphic-art/

Graphic Art

The exhibition is based on works from The Royal Collection of Graphic Art.


Thank to the exhibition sponsor.

Johannes Holbek, Allegretto, 1899. Museum Jorn. © Donation Jorn, Silkeborg.