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Jens Ferdinand Willumsen


Though he spent much of his life in France, Willumsen (1863–1958) is considered a leading reformer of Danish art. A highly versatile practitioner, he mastered several art forms and methods. He later moved away from Symbolism towards an expressionistic approach.

Born in Copenhagen, Willumsen studied as an architect at the Technical College there before enrolling at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1881. In 1885 he abandoned the Academy to study at the Kunstnernes Studieskoler (the Artists’ Study Schools) under Peder Severin Krøyer.

Rooted in Naturalism, he was influenced by the work of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Jean-François Raffaëlli. During his stay in Paris in 1890–4, he became interested in the simplified and decorative approach of Symbolism, especially Synthetism, as propagated by Paul Gauguin and his circle. Like these artists, Willumsen also experimented with ceramics, sculpture and woodcarving.

From the mid-1890s onwards he gradually moved away from French Symbolism in favour of more Germanic aesthetics and ethics. Like Edvard Munch and Ferdinand Hodler, he was fascinated by metaphysics, and his later art focused on existential issues and the forces of nature. He later won fame with works deriving from his extensive travels in Europe and the United States before settling permanently in the south of France in 1916.