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© Jais Nielsen. Photo: Ole Akhøj

Jais Nielsen



A locomotive waits impatiently on a platform. Passengers stroll away while the clocks remind them that time is rushing.

Departure! caused outcry when it was exhibited for the first time. Since then, painting has become an icon for modern art in Denmark.

One of the museum's art historians, Fleur Wetterholm, tells here about Jais Nielsen's attempt to wipe the painting clean with a new imagery.

Why is the painting so remarkable?

Many of the museum's guests can recognize Take off!as soon as they see it.

The painting has become an important icon for modern art in Denmark. Painted by one of the artists who did away with traditional painting in the early 1900s.

They created a new experience of spaciousness and movement in the images by using shape, color and space completely differently than before. And when writers or art historians want to illustrate it in textbooks or art books, so be it Departure! often used.


Video: Watch art historian Fleur Wetterholm talk about Jais Nielsen's painting 'Departure!'

What did Jais Nielsen want with the artwork?

Jais Nielsen was interested in speed, movement and machines. He wanted to show how much modern technology means to our way of life.

The locomotive is waiting to depart. It is ready to run and passengers must reach the train. All the clocks remind them to hurry. And about the time that we modern humans are constantly subject to in our everyday lives.

But whether it is positive or negative, there are divided opinions among researchers who have dealt with Jais Nielsen's art.

On the one hand, it can be difficult for us living viewers to see anything but stress and hustle.

On the other hand, there is much to suggest that he was fascinated by speed and movement. That’s because he was inspired by the futurists. A new art form that he had come to know in Paris, where he had lived for three years.


What does the painting tell us about the time it was created?

It's a bit like looking into a prism. A world that is chaotic and fragmented. And that was probably how many experienced this period.

We are at the end of World War I. Many Europeans cannot see the world and are looking for a place to stand. This is really a break-up.

At the same time, new movements are underway on the international art scene in these years. Jais Nielsen and other innovative artists do not feel they can continue with the old art. The one taught at the academies and cultivated by the bourgeoisie.

So they throw everything they have learned into the air. They will find a new imagery that better suits the times.

Here, Jais Nielsen expresses himself in a way where you become unsure of which point of view you see the figures from. Do you look at them from above or below or from the side? Something looks like a bag and something looks like a leg. And yet not quite. Everything is a bit distorted.

It is a trait he has taken from Cubism, which would precisely show several points of view in the same image.

The painting was first shown at the Artists' Autumn Exhibition in Copenhagen in 1918. And the exhibition caused great outrage. Critics believed that Jais Nielsen and the other young artists were deliberately trying to paint ugly.



Jais Nielsen (1885 - 1961)

Dated: 1918
Material: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 120 x 101 cm
Acquisition: Gift 1955 from Ny Carlsbergfondet


What characterizes Jais Nielsen's technique in painting?

Very characteristically, he uses certain lines to give a sense of speed and movement. In part, there are the diagonal lines in the painting. For example, in the bodies of the people, and in the train coming in obliquely from the right.

Partly the circular movements of the clocks, the steam and the three figures. It almost acts like centrifugal forces.


Three important details according to Fleur Wetterholm:

1. Try to see the bottom right corner. Here, Jais Nielsen has painted the train's wheels on the rail. Another reminder to be on your way somewhere. And in that way a picture of time. On what happens before and after, the train stops.

2. Notice what color the figures have on their faces. Yellow, red and blue. You may recognize yourself when you become short of breath. It underlines the hectic atmosphere.

3. How many watches can you find in the painting? And have you noticed that the male figure in the middle holds a watch in his hand, which he points to the female figure?

Please note that the work is not necessarily exhibited in the museum.

Fleur Wetterholm is an art historian. At Fuglsang Kunstmuseum she hosts guided tours and events.


Note: Danish only