Atlantis Alumni

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Busy Day In Copenhagen

Photos: Thorvaldsen Museum

We started our morning on Wednesday with a visit to the Thorvaldsen Museum, the oldest museum in the city (1848.) This building, part of the Christianborg Palace complex, houses the sculptures of Denmark’s most famous sculptor, an artist who lived in Rome during the early Romantic period, but one worked in a neo-Classical style. His numerous portrait busts, exquisite reliefs and over-life sized statues of mythological characters are located in an interesting setting, with the rooms often decorated with ceilings paintings done in a faux-Pompeii style. Bertil Thorvaldsen lived most of his life in Rome, where he was an enormous success, but the King of Denmark persuaded him to leave sunny Italy for the last ten years of his life, and in return, had the museum constructed to display the sculptor’s works.

Our second stop of the day was the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, a museum which houses ancient art and some 19th century European art. We enjoyed lunch at the museum’s cafĂ© which is located on the edge of the indoor courtyard garden. After eating, we explored the wonderful paintings by Courbet, Manet, Monet, Gauguin and Van Gogh, among others. The collection is particularly strong for Gauguin, probably because he was married to a Danish woman. Jim decided to leave and explore the Tivoli Gardens and Amusement Park, while Dan stayed at the Museum. There I saw some of the ancient art collections, which are extensive, and feature works from Egypt, Assyria, Greece and Rome. The Glyptotek also houses much late 19th century French and Danish sculpture. In one large hall a group of Korean musicians were tuning up, and a security told me that the President of South Korea was visiting the city.

I returned to the Christianborg Palace to see the royal reception rooms. They are impressive and two of the finest figure wonderful 20th century tapestries, one series from the 1920s devoted to Danish folk tales and another set, just installed in 2000, concerned with the history of Denmark from the Vikings to the present day. This unusual set of large-scale tapestries is done in very bright colors and in a variety of figural styles, all woven at the Gobelins factory in France from 1990 to 2000, and designed by a contemporary Dane.

The Christianborg Palace is a large complex, and in one of the buildings the Parliament convenes. The reception rooms are sometimes used for receptions by the current Queen, Margarethe, but she lives in a different palace, Amalienborg. I searched for the Theater Museum, also on the grounds of the complex. It features designs for plays on its walls, but also contains an entire, small 18th century theater. Though most of Christianborg was destroyed by fire in the 18th century, this building (and the Royal Stables) survived. The main buildings were rebuilt in 1928.

After a short rest at the Royal Hotel, where Jim returned a bit later, we walked to one of the large squares and had a Japanese dinner before heading to the Royal Theater. There we enjoyed seeing the Royal Danish Ballet. When Americans usually think of the most famous ballet companies in the world, they might list ABT, the NY City Ballet, The Royal Ballet of London, the Paris Opera Ballet, and then the Bolshoi and Kirov of Russia. But the precision and training of the Danes also places them in such exalted company. Our triple bill included only one piece by Denmark’s greatest choreographer, August Bournonville. His “Konserveratoriet” is a light-hearted look at dance training, and features his expressive and fast choreography. The company also danced “Alumnus” a new work by contemporary choreographer Johan Kobborg. Its humor was forced, but the second half “Salute” was a tribute to Bournonville and was set to music by Lumbye, one of the Danish composers that the master regularly used. Unfortunately, the third work on the program was Harald Lander’s bravura “Etudes”. Though it’s a thorough work-out for the dancers, the music by Riisager is bombastic and the choreography matches. This 1948 work would have been better left in the history books. Still, it was rewarding to see the great tradition of ballet continue in Copenhagen.

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