Letter: Viggo Pedersen to Jens Ferdinand Willumsen

Letter: Viggo Pedersen to Jens Ferdinand Willumsen

A glowing letter of praise from Viggo Pedersen (1854-1926) to artist Jens Ferdinand Willumsen (1863-1958). It refers to Pedersen's current state of health and also Den Frie Udstilling (The Free Exhibition).

12th of October 1923

Dear Willumsen!

I intended to put up wishing you happiness until I could shake your hand at the party tomorrow. But now it is so unfortunate that both my wife and I have become miserable, so that we are quite prevented. It has happened before, when you have gathered the free exhibitors in your grandiose way, that I have been prevented. I was looking forward to paying tribute to you now as a guest in the free exhibition.

You are such a great artist that your very work must fill you completely; and small painters.

Tributes can hardly weigh much to you; though it is always from the circle of colleagues, even if it is only a few prominent, that the warmest understanding and gratitude emanate. But you, like the great artist, are also the great man, the two things are inseparable. And however high your artistic power and ability may be above the ordinary level, I believe that the beautiful humanity of you is nevertheless pleased to meet the gratitude of those who understand your importance.

What is more, they have always shown so many of us a personal like kindness, so that alone would be enough to draw us to you. In addition, the free exhibition has been such a mighty, indeed indispensable and faithful support.

We owe you not only the peculiarity and goodness of our building, but we are grateful to you for the fidelity you have shown us, the sacrifices you have made us, even after we could hardly count on all your interest from afar.

But most of all we must thank you for holding in high esteem the idea in whose service you live and work, - it seems to me as if your art is a religion to you. It is also to Blussel for many of us who have not had the power to fight such a struggle – purely human – (for the abilities are assigned by the hand of the Creator) – uplifting, exhilarating. Great is a demand therein to our conscience that brings me to bow my head shamefully.

The weaker we ourselves are, the more we need to see before our eyes the heroic. When I think of how from the outset you have fought your own way, formed your own ideal, grappled with thoughts and concepts, and fixed upon yourself a view of life in which the never-giving struggle seems to be the centre, and the fact that you have met little participation beyond a narrower circle seems to me to be something tragic but most admirable.

Tragic – because you seem made to be, in the noblest sense, a folk-painter, an artist in many respects who would have had his great pleasure in serving a nation, interpreting it what it itself does not quite know it owns. He who gives with all his might, and with so great power—and so pure, standing, and yet clear, with a heat like undercurrent, glimpsed and then joyful doubly, but always manly without the faintest trace of sentimentality, had deserved great commissions, and such as face the great people, not the refined parts of it, the healthy, strong, uncorrupted, happy and warm part of the people.

I think – forgive me – you do not know this. These people are divided into two parts along different lines than many other peoples – and the aesthetic parts of it know little about the other part and have gladly overlooked it.

Here now comes a multitude of strangers from all over the earth to see what it is that makes there a hidden power in Denmark, which a very large part of the People themselves do not understand or expect. The strangers see it better – from a distance – ; But they want to know really what it is. This summer alone there have been c. 100 Japanese, not all of whom find their way to the lifeblood; but some have found it. Here come people from other nations, all of whom will seek to find the source of the conspicuous skill in the field of our agriculture and our share enterprises. Some find the Source, others do not. But it is there. If you had found it yourself, you would have been both incited and probably have found Sangbund.

The Great Artist is always the performer. Whether he is given assignments or not, it is his lot – his privilege – to be the great performer. But understanding, gratitude, pride and enthusiasm he should at least be able to reap. There should be a Vexel effect.

However, you have stood alone – and have even partly expatriated you. To the great sorrow of all who care for you; But it is all the more admirable that you have been able to hold the banner of ideas so high.

It is quite astonishing that you have had such power in you. You cast a lustre on your country, and yet you do not know—yes, forgive me—not the best, warmest, strongest of your peoples,—that which other peoples seek here in order to rise up their own decay by the same means.

The rot of the upper classes is very obvious, and there is so much misery and weakness among us that I understand you can be led by coming here, sadly. But the undercurrent is warm, just as in your own soul. The marrow is healthy, and there is an ideal urge and power that of the cities.

The population and the capital's in particular have never been able to find and therefore overlooked and misunderstood. And yet you have generously created and shown us – and thereby bestowed upon us as values – such a proud art.

They rise into majestic solitude, like a radiant clifftop. What a Vexel effect customer had spawned I do not know. Perhaps you feel too suverain for that. However, I think you must have missed it. Let us, then, who admire you, greet you with increased gratitude and wish them continued power and an always equally pure and noble striving. And I would add:

Don't leave us. If the best part of the people do not know you, and you especially do not know this, then still, as I hope you will notice, the seed of so proud a tree in the motherly earth is recorded, and no one knows what such a seed can have for effect. We need you more than I think you know. Fewer of us who look to both sides understand this.

If you live perhaps best in peace and quiet in the foreign world, your Danish basic lines cannot be extended. Don't turn our backs, it would be so searing bitter to feel. And I will it is sincerely hoped that the wave of thanks and tributes which are now standing up against you will testify to you, that if you are not even as understood as you would like, there is nevertheless a circle that both appreciates your proud art, its beautiful personality, and is honestly connected to you.

It is a sorrow for me not to press your hand tomorrow night. Take this as a handprint from one of the many.

With respectful greetings and congratulations also to your wife.

Your devoted,

Viggo Pedersen

Credit: The New Carlsberg Foundation

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