Ballin, Joel (1822-1885)

Ballin, Joel (1822-1885)
Ballin, Joel (1822-1885)

Danish artist Joel Ballin had a particular penchant for engraving. Ballin’s passion for engraving and discovering new and better processes for this process took him to many cities across Europe and earned him an esteemed reputation in his homeland.

Ballin began his artistic journey training as a painter at the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Owing to his circumstances, Ballin’s studies took him 11 years, as he had to work at the same time to support himself.

Over this long period of time, Ballin would find his interests changing and his attention turning towards engraving. This is a process by which an image is scored onto a metal or wooden sheet and then transferred as a print onto paper. At the time, a new process through which this process occurred, called ‘chemitype’ was growing popular. Noticing this new approach to an old art, the struggling Ballin thought he had found a lucrative trade.

Ballin turned his world upside down in order to study engraving, moving first to Leipzig, Germany, and then to Paris, France. Despite ‘chemitype’ failing, Ballin gritted his teeth and continued along this line of work, practising copper plate engraving. The Danish government awarded him the funds with which to travel after Ballin displayed to them a number of his works, and they would keep a close eye on him during his career.

It was in Paris that Ballin began to find success. He became a key translator of prominent works of art through the medium of engraving. Engravers were not simply copiers, but translators. Through their painstaking, time-consuming work, they brought art to life to be disseminated to the wider public in printed publications. The works of Jean-Victor Bertin (1767-1842) and Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685) all passed through Ballin’s hand and to the wider public. The culturally significant position of engravers should not be understated.

Such attention to detail and canny ability to capture the spirit and essence of an artwork or sitter is also evident in the surviving pieces Ballin produced. It seems he did not entirely give up painting, even as his life is defined by engraving. Portraits have a sharp lifelike nature, the features of the sitter contrasting to the dark background which crowds in like clouds behind them. Eyes seemingly brim with life, there is surely the mark of a translator with such fluid, adaptable skill.

Ballin lived and worked for a time in London before the Danish government called him back to Denmark. They had watched and recognised Ballin’s efforts throughout his career, and he was rewarded handsomely. He became a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Art and was also awarded the Order of Dannebrog. The Danish government wanted him to return in order to revitalise copper engraving in the country. Unfortunately, these efforts were not successful, and Ballin would die only two years after his return.

Ballin defied the odds to become a prominent Danish artist. Despite his initial struggles to get by and the failure of ‘chemitype,’ Ballin became a recognised artistic figure awarded some of the highest honours in Denmark. Not only did he lend his services to other European countries, but in his homeland, he was a key part of efforts to encourage and support art.

He was a founding member of The Artists' Association of 18 November, set up to display and promulgate artistic endeavour. Ballin was an innovator, keen to practice a traditional craft and bring it into the 19th century.


Born in Vejle, Denmark.


Studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.


Co-founded the Artists’ Association of 18 November.


Studied etching in Leipzig, Germany.


Moved to Paris, France.


Studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France.


Married Helene Levin.


Awarded a gold medal at the Paris Salon.


Awarded the Order of the Dannebrog.


Moved to London, Britain.


Made a member of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen.


Moved to Copenhagen, Denmark.


Died in Copenhagen, Denmark. Buried in the Jewish Northern Cemetery, Copenhagen.

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