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    Rudolph Tegner (1873-1950)

    by Lars Schwander, 1990 (written to "COPYRIGHT art magazine" No. 3/4 1990, printet here by permission, 2011)

    One of Denmark's most remarkable museums is the Rudolph Tegner Museum and Statue Park. A lone concrete building set in one of the most beautiful parts of the Island of Zealand (Sjælland) with the descriptive name »Siberia«, in »Little Russia«. A rolling, sandy landscape, primarily covered with heather, grass and bushes. Rudolph Tegner selected this area because, as he said, »Its isolation called to me and my bronzes. This hill was in mystic harmony with my spirit«.

    The museum still stands alone on the north coast of Zealand, to the east of Hornbæk. The house, which was one of the first concrete buildings in Denmark, is crumbling away and has been in danger of collapsing. Nor is it a »real« museum with a permanent curator, let alone a proper list of the man's works.

    Rudolph Tegner's Museum and Statue Park is scarred, as the artist became during his lifetime. It is typical of his work that it is still hidden away - perhaps in the hope that he will be forgotten. His name is an anathema to such an extent that it is usually suppressed in official histories of art, even now 40 years after his death.

    Only one little booklet - difficult to get hold of today - has been brought out on Tegner's work. This list was never reprintet, and of books there are none. Even his memoirs »Mod Lyset« (Against the Light), named after one of his groups of statuary, remain unpublished.

    Who was he, this sculptor, Tegner, who got himself such a bad name among the Iconoclasts? This word was used by the famous poet Sophus Claussen in a warning to Tegner:»... otherwise the Iconoclasts - of whom we have many - will come along one day and fire at him with their revolvers ...«

    Childhood and youth

    Rudolph Christopher Puggaard Tegner was born in Copenhagen in 1973 and brought up in a middel-class home in which art was part of the background.

    »It was my Great-Grandmother sowed the seeds of delight in art, and respect for genius, in the family. An old drawing by Købke shows her in the middle of a circle of artists in Rome, surrounded by Thorvaldsen and the painters and sculptors of the Golden Age of Danish art.«

    That is how Tegner puts it in his memoirs, going on to decribe his visits to Jørgen Sonne's home, where pictures by C. W. Eckersberg, Wilhelm Marstrand, Vilhelm Kyhn et al hung.

    And he tells of the journeys to the family's house in Sweden, which had been built by the young Thorvald Bindesbøl.

    As soon as he could, Teg- ner went to sea. The life of a naval officer did not attract him, but the travel did. And it was on his first long voyage to the Mediterranean in 1888 that his fate was sealed. The ship was tied up at the port of Athens in Piraeus and they had short leave. Tegner went straight to the Acropolis, and his meeting with it decided the course of his life as an artist.

    »What was happening inside me?

    My knees were knocking and my heart was in my mouth. The enormous broken blocks, the marble columns and walls pressed in upon me; it was as though they lifted me up and took me to them.

    I was as one transfixed.


    How could human beings have created such a miracle of harmony, power and beauty? Enthralled, I just stood there and gazed. ... What was happening inside me I did not quite know. A strange rapture ran through me whilst I drank in the enchanting view.

    Art had folded me in her embrace!«

    Back home, Tegner was still obsessed with enthusiasm for Greek art. An interest not shared by his strict father, who wanted his son to contibue in the family's footsteps. Thus Tegner had to suffer a lot even then.

    »It was terribly difficult to tear myself away from temples and statues when my Father wanted to hear my French prep. or german grammar after supper. Many a time I burst into tears, despite being a big boy of 14 or 15, when Father, after taking a draught of wine, crumpled his napkin up and expressed his scorn at my impossible stupidity.


    »Obviously, nothing would ever come out of a boy who showed signs of wilfulness and who was lazy and stubbom. He needed proper punishment; and the old riding whip from Frederiksgade was once more fetched down from its hook. And Father whipped the half-grown boy. »I was outraged to the core. Was I really my Father's and Mother's own son if I could be treated so appallingly? «

    Recognition from his father first came in 1890 when Tegner was admitted to the Academy, where he worked enthusiastically in Vilhelm Bissen's atelier, where the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland was as well. Vigeland did »The Curse« at this time.

    His period at the Academy lasted only two years. Tegner later had a seat on the Academy Council, but resigned in dissatisfaction after a couple of years.

    It was his impressions from Athens that laid the foundations of his life's work; these idealised, striving figures. It was also the South that gave Tegner his life's longing to go abroad. He soon went to France, finding a milieu full of sculptors. Above all, that was where the 33 years older sculptor Auguste Rodin lived and worked.

    Auguste Rodin and The France of The Sculptores

    Rodin was Tegner's ideal, so it was no accident that he set up his studio in the Paris suburb of Meudon, nor that he had his castings done by Eugene Rudier, who had done work for both Rodin and Bourdelle. Most of all, it seemed as if they shared the common tale of never really completing their proper life's work.

    There can be no doubt that the work of Tegner's life was »Livets Port« (or »Kærlighe- dens Port« - 'Gateway to Life', or 'Gateway to Love') a monumental gateway for Copenhagen Common. The project comprised a series of more or less broken columns surrounded by human figures.

    In a way, there is a parallel to Rodin's »The Gates of Hell«. An ambitious group consisting of a long series of individual figures which approached its apotheosis in the model phase.

    Like Rodin, Tegner took smaller figures out in order to do them in isolation.

    That is why it was an extra pleasure for Tegner, after having suffered one defeat after another in Denmark, that it was Rodin above all who opened up new pathways for him in France, primarily by including Tegner's sculptures in his own Salon. It was at one of these exhibitions that Tegner was awarded a »Premier medaille d'or«, the Salon's gold medal, for his »Hercules and the Hydra«. A self-portrait of the eternally struggling Olympian, surrounded by yard-long snakes. The monument, which stands in Elsinore today, did cause problems because Tegner had to find the money to get it back to Denmark himself. It was only thanks to the assistance of rich friends that it was cast, transported back, and finally presented to Elsinore. A town which subsequently received several of Tegner's remarkable works, including the »Dancers' Fountain« now standing near the entrance to »Hamlet's Castle« of Kronborg.

    The Gatway to Life, The Gateway to Love

    Tegner became more and more bitter as he saw that he was never to realise his life's work. However, his family managed to set up a committee of support, which included Mr. Thorvald Stauning (later Prime Minister; transl. rem.). He was a co-signee of a confidentially published brochure literally intended to sell the project, so that money, at least, should not prevent its realisation.

    Letters were also sent to acquaintances and people Tegner thought would support the project. These included the author Sophus Claussen, whom Tegner had met in Rome. He replied politely, and not without humour:

    »To Rudolph Tegner, Sculptor.

    Thank-you for the Leaflet with Reproductions of your Gateway. That such Triumphal Gateway projects are not without appeal to me may be judged by the fact that the following Verse was, in fact, a dream of a Propylaea on Queen Louise's Bridge in the dusk like a dancing fairy wandering through the crowd and dividing the swarm:

    »The dusk draws in over the city's buildings and bridges Where hungry men homeward wend their weary way.

    A strange and naked Dancer, a barefoot Queen With a turbid smile on her dim and open lips...«

    That a Chimera related to the very Spirit of Copenhagen could grow forth in the midst of the masses was part of the Metropolitan dreams of my Youth.


    I have no particular objections to the woman; her beauty and caprice are Copenhagen's own. But the gladiator - where shall we place him? No doubt the Director of some financial undertaking. Or is he just an imitator of foreign fashion?

    The eroticism between the two is a kind of mutual elegance, devoid of Danish earthiness and heart. A real lover and triumphator ought to idolize his lady friend a bit more and himself a bit less ...

    Otherwise the Iconoclasts - of whom we have many - will come along one day and fire at him with their revolvers. They will also shoot at the two girls huddled together, groping around in the deepest darkness with their eyes closed.«

    When the enterprise came to nought, Tegner devoted himself instead to the creation of his own museum. It gave offence right from the start. In the first place he planned his »Temple« so that he could be buried in the central room, as had Bertel Thorvaldsen. In the second, it was Denmark's first concrete building. This was just before the [2. World-] War, during which the Germans built concrete gunemplacements all along the West coast of Jutland. At the same time Tegner adopted a kind of futuristic inspiration and considerable idealisation. None of which favoured a friendly reception for his »Little Russia« project.

    Tegner's friends Brandes and Jacobsen the Brewer

    Tegner's isolation in Danish artistic life is a Kafkaesque nightmare. In point of actual fact he had very few supporters who, besides his wife Elna, only numbered the »free-thinker« Georg Brandes and the brewer Jacobsen, founder of the New Carlsberg Glyptothek museum of sculpture in Copenhagen.

    On Jacobsen's death, the last doors closed for Tegner. The New Carlsberg Foundation could support him no longer, and his sculptures were removed. Even the great marble figure of his wife was taken out of the New Carlsberg Glyptothek's garden and given, opportunely, back to Tegner himself, in time for him to be able to include it in his statue park. In the same way, the work which Jacobsen, the brewer, had commissioned, »Danserindebrønden« (The Dancers' Fountain) was removed from the royal »Kongens Have« gardens in Copenhagen and presented to Elsinore. Several more of Tegner's sculptures have been moved since.

    Rudolph Tegner's status today

    On the other hand his rejection has resulted in an unparalleled opportunity to see his life's work. Most of his figures are in the Museum. And Elsinore, only a few miles east of »Little Russia«, owns two of Tegner's major works.

    It may well be that the waves of scandal that always engulfed him are to Tegner's advantage today. It is a rare thing to be able to see an artist's entire oeuvre - and in avenue he himself selected.

    This does of course mean that what we see is Tegner's material from beginning to end, without any gradation or assessment of its character. And there are also works that really ought to have been put in store. Nevertheless this unintegrated form is part of the museum's strength. As an observer, one notices this. All these figures standing side by side as if they had only been put there temporarily. One is not unaffected by this museum.

    There is something anachronistic about Tegner's oeuvre, so often did he look back to the styles of earlier times. This applies particularly to his later works, among which his unfinished group »The Blind« (1949-50) was clearly inspired by Rodin's »The Burghers of Calais«. Sculpture in Europe had long freed itself from the figurative element, and all sorts of new movements were stirring.

    There is, however, something refreshing about Tegner's almost uncritical use of techniques, motifs and materials. His mixture of styles can itself be useful today, now that the artists of Denmark have begun to seek inspiration in Tegner's works.

    The entire »post-modernist« freedom in assemblage of figures and styles risks rehabilitating Tegner! One day, even, perhaps in another museum, it may be possible to present Tegner's life and work.

    Rudolph Tegner's Museum is open from medio April to medio October, see http:// The Statue Park is always open.

    Rudolph Tegner's Museum & Statue Park contains about 200 sculptures. A society, Tegners Museums Venner (The Friends of Tegner's Museum) has been founded to support the maintenance and continuation of the museum, as well as making the institution better known. (this site:

    »Mod Lyset« (Against the Light) is the title of Tegner's memoirs, written in 1942 and revised by his widow Elna in 1956. [The manuscript was first published 1991, Fogtdal, 267p, and republished 2005, Aschehoug, 257p.]

    (c) Lars Schwander

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