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.

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’.

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.