Lacking recognition from the Danish art scene, Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann (1819–1881) went to London to build an international career. She was successful, and her story is now being told for the first time to a wider audience. From the mid 19th century she spent the following two decades making a name for herself in London, exhibiting and selling her paintings. She was attached to one of the city’s most prominent galleries, and several of her pictures were shown at the Buckingham Palace.
Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann was an avid letter writer. Most of her letters from London to her husband, Jens Adolf Jerichau, and the couple’s many children have never before been published, but they offer unique insight into her encounter with the modern, Victorian art world and the impressive network she established in the metropolis.
Artist and pioneer
Breve fra London (Letters from London) sheds light on an overlooked chapter of Jerichau Baumann’s lengthy contact with the English art scene, and with this book, art historians Sine Krogh and Birgitte Fink draw a nuanced portrait of an unconventional painter who became a pioneer in Danish art.
She established herself as an artist on an equal footing with her male colleagues, promoted her own work and proved herself fully capable of combining her artistic talent with the ability to secure new commissions.
In Denmark, the critics were harsh, mocking this ‘travelling saleswoman’ who contributed to the household income. However, outside Denmark, and especially in London, she met far greater recognition. The letters document new sides to her exhibition activities but also offer insight into the personal costs of her artistic career and the privations of spending months away from home:
‘But I do say that life in London is, besides being of great interest to me, hard work, a constant effort. Yes! If only you knew how every day, every hour, must be counted, always, as you put it, running to catch up,’ writes Jerichau Baumann to her husband in 1862.
The New Carlsberg Foundation taps into primary sources in new publication series
In autumn 2015, the New Carlsberg Foundation initiated the digitization project Primary Sources in Danish Art History (PSiDAH). Breve fra London is the first volume in a series of publications springing from this project. The purpose of the series is to encourage people to delve into this art historical source material and to make it available to a wide audience.
‘Naturally, the thorough art historian should seek out the primary sources, but regrettably this happens far too rarely. PSiDAH is the Foundation’s answer to this ever relevant challenge, and Breve fra London is the publication that kick-starts our series,’ says Karsten Ohrt, chairman of the New Carlsberg Foundation.
Over the course of winter 2018, Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann’s letters will be made available on the website of the New Carlsberg Foundation. Volume two in the PSiDAH publication series presents the personal journals of the golden-age painter Johan Thomas Lundbye. Authored by art historian, PhD Jesper Svenningsen, the book will be published in September 2018.