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J.F. Willumsen - the artist

J.F. Willumsen was one of the most versatile artists in Denmark. Throughout his long life he was passionately occupied by artistic questions. He expressed himself in all the media of the visual arts that were available to him, and he continually made new demands of his work.

A considerable part of his life was spent outside Denmark. At home he felt stigmatised and abroad that he did not receive the recognition he deserved. The truth was, however, that J.F. Willumsen was an artist who attracted much attention. For many years his works at The Free Exhibition were awaited with excitement, people were almost disappointed if the effect was not sufficiently surprising and challenging.


In 1882 J.F. Willumsen started the education as a painter at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen. But in spite of three attempts he never passed the final examination. He finished his education as painter at Kunstnernes Studieskole (The Artists' School)


Willumsen grew up as an only child in his parents’ home in Copenhagen. His father ran a pub and later a gentlemen’s outfitter’s. Willumsen believed that the sculptor Jens Adolph Jerichau may have been his real father. His relationship to his mother was always good, while his relationship to his father was more problematic. When his mother died in 1899, he executed a large sepulchral monument to his parents, which was erected in Vestre Kirkegård in 1901. His father did not die until 1910.

Willumsen was twice married. His first marriage was to Juliette Meyer, with whom he had two sons, Jan and Bode. In the 1890s Juliette produced a number of works in white faience in the style of the period. Juliette modelled for him on occasion, among other things for the etching Lady Out Walking and The Family Vase (The Danish Museum of Decorative Art).

In 1903 he married the sculptress Edith Wessel, with whom he had two daughters, Gersemi and Anse. Edith, who created figures in wood, bronze, marble and multicloured wax, appeared frequently in Willumsen’ works. She is A Mountain Climber, Hagemanns Kollegium and The Royal Museum of Fine Arts), the mother in The Evening Soup and in The Painter and His Family and the woman in After the Storm. The two girls also appear in a number of works.

Willumsen spent his old age together with the French dancer and painter Michelle Bourret, who can be found in several of his paintings from the 1930s. All Willumsen’s wives were artists and they both supported and helped him in his art.


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