Denmark Arts and Music

By | December 18, 2021


The most ancient artistic manifestations are from the Bronze Age (1500-400 BC); significant examples of Celtic art date back to the Iron Age. Impressive the flowering of the Viking period (800-1100: tomb of the ships at Ladby in Funen, royal tomb of Jellonge in Jylland, silver, coins) after the Roman period.

Little remains of medieval works of art after the destruction of the Reformation. In sculpture, inspired by the French Gothic are the wooden crucifixes of Skaane, Schleswig and the ivory crucifix of Herlufsholm; towards the 14th century. German influences prevail, but the tomb of Queen Margaret (1423) in the cathedral of Roskilde reveals Burgundian contributions. In the 15th century. the imports from Lübeck are significant (altar of the cathedral of Aarhus, by B. Notke). Three great sculptors worked in the period immediately preceding the Reformation: C. Berg, a pupil of U. Stoss, H. Brüggerman and A. van Düren. Even less documented is the painting, which counts masterpieces such as the chapel of the Magi in Roskilde (c. 1450) and the church of Fanefjord, on the island of Mon. For Denmark 2004, please check

The secular subjects appear only in the Renaissance, mostly by the work of foreign artists. At the end of the sixteenth century decorative painting flourished, while under Christian IV numerous artists, mostly foreigners, worked on the decoration of royal castles and on portraits (among the most important, K. van Mander and A. Wuchters). In the second half of the eighteenth century the neoclassical was outlined with the Frenchman J. Saly, and then with B. Thorvaldsen. Among the painters, V. Erichsen and J. Juel are elegant portrait painters; significant the activity of CW Eckersberg, trained in Paris at J.-L. David, and his followers V. Bendz, M. Rørbie, A. Muller and especially C. Købøe. A group of artists with nationalist tendencies was formed around the art critic N. Hsyen who also left traces in sculpture.

After 1878 the young generation sought their inspiration in France (T. Philipsen). In Skagen a group of artists turned to painting en plein air: among these PS Krøyer, M. Ancher and his wife Anna who, however, preferred subjects of family life, approaching the other address, of an intimate painting, in keeping with tradition Danish (A. Jerndorf, J. Paulsen and LA Ring). After 1900 the ‘Danish group’ played an important part in the art movement.

After the First World War, while some artists adhered to the post- cubist avant-garde (V. Lundstrøm, C. Swane), others were mainly linked to the Danish landscape (N. Bjerre). The ‘school of Funen’ devoted itself especially to this latter theme. The diffusion of surrealism in Denmark (W. Freddie, W. Bjerke Petersen, H. Carlsson) dates back to the magazine Konkretion (“Concretion”, 1935-37). In 1938 the abstract-surrealist movement arose, which through expressionistic experiences reached the informal, with E. Bille, R. Mortensen, and with the sculptors H. Heerup and R. Jacobsen. The abstract spontaneism of the group headed by the magazine Helhesten (“The Horse of Hell”) also opens up towards cinema and jazz, and heralds the COBRA group (➔).

After 1960 the neorealistic experimentalism of A. Mertz and S. Dalsgaard, the concretism of O. Schwalbe, P. Gadegaard, A. Andersen, I. Geertsen, the minimalism of H. Heinsen, M. Møller and S. Brøgger, i works by the Eks-skolen group (“Experimental school”: P. Germs, P. Kirkeby, B. Nørgaard etc.) show the constant characteristics of Danish art: classical simplification, playful anarchism and a precise social role. Finally, interesting experiences in the field of artistic weaving (U. Lerche, G. Balle, H. Kaastrup Olsen) and graphics should be noted.

In the 1980s a break with late modernism was represented by a group of academically trained painters, the Young Savage Painters. The first exhibition of the group, The Knife on the Head (1982), was attended by among others P. Bonde, C. Carstensen, Denmark Dahlin, N. Sten-Knudsen; influenced by the Italian trans-avant-garde and the German group heftige Malerei, the painters of the group soon abandoned their figurative expressionism for an ironic and ambiguous painting that emphasizes the spiritual element of art. In the sphere of sculpture, the interest for the figure and for the form, but in an intellectualistic vision and with a plurality of expressive modes, appears central in Ø’s work. Nygård and E. Toubro. Since the 1990s, many artists have experimented with various and unusual materials or created installations that interact with the exhibition space, abolishing the boundaries between the different artistic categories. Such an attitude is typical of some artists from the Nuova abstraction group (active in the 1980s, dissolved in 1988), who continued to work in this direction, such as M. Barker (computer art and new technologies); V. Collaro (use of neon); T. Ebbesen; M. Sørensen.


Danish folk song began to be studied in the 20th century: the most investigated genre is the ballad, whose origin dates back to the 13th century. In the field of art music, in the 16th and 17th centuries. the activity centered around the court of Christian IV, who gave Danish music an international imprint. Danish by birth was Denmark Buxtehude, who worked in Germany. From the seventeenth century onwards, Danish music was dominated by French and Italian influence. The reopening of the theaters, whose activity had been suspended by Christian IV, and the growing interest in melodrama favored the birth of the musical work in Danish (the Singspiel Solimano set to music in 1770 by the Italian G. Sarti).

We can only speak of a real Danish style in the 19th century. with works by composers such as JPE Hartmann and NW Gade. Protagonist of the 20th century. instead it was CA Nielsen, composer and teacher of almost all Danish musicians of the twentieth century (among these JL Emborg, E. Reesen, J. Bentzon, K. Jeppesen, an important figure also in the musicological field). In addition, the musicians F. Weis, J. Maegaard (Danish theorist of dodecaphony), O. Mortensen have been mentioned.

Denmark Music