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© Johannes Bjerg / VISDA. Photo: Ole Akhøj

Johannes Bjerg


1914 – 15

The Abyssinian winds like a spiral. Like a dancer, he crosses his legs, opens his arms and looks out into space, as if listening to something. Despite the intricate pose, the sculpture is in perfect balance.

Johannes Bjergs Abyssinian is an important work of art in the history of Danish sculpture. A sculpture whose body ideal broke with the prevailing norms. Here, one of the museum's experts, art historian Fleur Wetterholm, explains how.

Why is the sculpture here so remarkable?

“The whole sculpture seems alive. I feel like he can move at any moment.

In the history of Danish sculpture, it is one of the absolute masterpieces. It is both Johannes Bjerg's breakthrough work and a masterpiece from his younger years.

The sculpture has an incredibly resilient structure and balance. The load-bearing starting point with the crossing feet is flimsy. But from the feet, the sculpture grows with a complete safe balance and elegance. It looks playfully easy for Bjerg. ”

Video: Watch Fleur Wetterholm talk about the Abyssinian.

What did Johannes Bjerg want with the work of art?

“There is no doubt that Johannes Bjerg has been fascinated by the model, who was from the region of Abyssinia, the former name of Ethiopia in East Africa. He has seen a sculptural potential in him.

In any case, Bjerg shows a different body ideal than the usual one at this time. The Abyssinian is muscular, but at the same time light and elegant. It differs markedly from the more pumped body ideal of the time, which was inspired by Greco-Roman antiquity. ”


What does the sculpture tell us about the time in which it was created?

“The sculpture testifies to the period's great interest in the exotic, especially African motifs. The artists searched for another culture that could provide inspiration to free themselves from the European art tradition. A tradition the ardent wanted to do away with.

Johannes Bjerg met the African model in Paris during his stay in 1911-14. The model was popular and was used by many other of the city's artists.

In the French capital, Bjerg also met big names the sculptor Rodin and the painter Picasso. Picasso belonged to the young, forward-thinking generation of artists who sought new avenues for art. Among other things, through African motifs. It was crucial for Bjerg to spot the African model.

Bjerg’s Abyssinian also show the stereotypical way in which people of African descent were often portrayed at the time. Many artists highlighted the negroid touch in a simplified way. This meant that the people depicted appeared more as types than as portrayed people with individual traits. ”



Johannes Bjerg (1886-1955)

Dating: 1914-15
Material: Bronze
Dimensions: 199 cm high

Acquisition: Bought in 2004 by the artist's heirs with grants from Augustinus Fonden, BG Fonden, Kulturarvsstyrelsen, Lizzie og Ejler Ruges Kunstfond, Ny Carlsbergfondet og Storstrøms Amt

What characterizes Johannes Bjerg's technique?

Bjerg has in a way made his own version of the classic counterposto pose of antiquity. It is characterized by the fact that the sculpture places the body weight on one leg. It makes it grounded and lively at the same time.

But he has added something new. Namely, a spiral movement, where the sculpture rotates around its own vertical central axis. ”
Three important details according to Fleur Wetterholm:

1.“The head seems almost even more stylized than the rest of the sculpture. If you can recall Picasso's Cubist paintings, you might see certain features that are reminiscent of them. ”

2.“The twist in the body is incredibly elegant. It gives a spiral movement, almost like a dancer or a propeller that is about to take off. ”

3.Plinths rarely get much attention, but in this case it is worth highlighting. Its round shape emphasizes the spiral movement of the sculpture. At the same time, it is remarkably small, which is of great importance for the overall expression of the sculpture to be so light and elegant. ”

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