The Dream about Denmark

The Dream about Denmark

The exhibition The Dream about Denmark shows large formats and epic motifs from the second half of the nineteenth century and pops the question: ‘What exactly could be described as being typically Danish?’

The question about being Danish is as pertinent today as it was at the end of the nineteenth century. This was a time when Denmark underwent great political, financial, and military changes. The Dream about Denmark shines a light on the national liberal ideas that flourished at this time and helped define our perception of Denmark and of being Danish. 

- The present times are teeming with discussions about national values. With clear political undertones, we tend to define who’s out and who’s in. The Dream about Denmark is a beautiful and important exhibition that helps us understand the background to the terms used today when, for example, talking of national states, says Erlend G. Høyersten, museum director, ARoS.

The exhibition comprises 70 works dating from the second half of the nineteenth century from the museum collection, including Janus la Cour, Vilhelm Kyhn, and Christen Dalsgaard. They were all part of the National Romantic current and portrayed the concept of modern Denmark.

About the period

The second half of the nineteenth century is known as the National Romantic period. These were times of great changes in Denmark with the adoption of the Constitution in 1849 being a landmark event. The previous year had seen the abolition of the absolute monarchy and a greater part of the population now felt that they, too, had a say in defining the ‘dream about Denmark’.

In January 1859, a group of citizens got together in Aarhus. They wanted to establish the first Danish museum of art outside Copenhagen. This was the beginnings of what is now ARoS Aarhus Art Museum.

- Already then, people were aware of how significant art is for the way we perceive life. So, they purchased and commissioned works by a new generation of artists, who could promote the national liberal ideas. These artists portrayed Denmark as a country with beautiful and imposing landscapes, calm seas, and stout-hearted farmers leading eventful lives. They were proud of their country and wanted it portrayed as such, says Erik Nørager Pedersen, curator, ARoS.

This was also the time of Hans Christian Andersen, the poet and priest N.F.S. Grundtvig, and Søren Kierkegaard. In their different ways, each addressed the opportunities for individual people to develop and shape their own lives. There was an urge to seek nature, to experience new places, and to delve into history, culture, and science. Hans Christian Andersen wrote patriotic songs, lyrical declarations of love to the beautiful countryside, Grundtvig made it possible for farmers to undertake cultural studies via the folk high-school movement, and Søren Kierkegaard argued in favour of individuals taking responsibility for their own lives.

Curator-in-charge: Erik Nørager Pedersen, curator, ARoS.

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