An art scene in dissolution
In her breakthrough years, Olivia Holm-Møller was highly aware of the existing difference between the so-called traditional art based on figuration and realism, and "the modern direction", as she herself termed the emerging modernism in Danish art, which was in its formative years at the time and had not yet settled into the narratives of abstraction, avant-gardism and criticism. The purpose of art and its expressive problems were thus the subject of lively debate in the art world.
The male painters of the period primarily organised themselves in artists’ associations such as Ung Dansk Kunst (Young Danish Art) (1910) and Grønningen (1915) in order to fight for a particular style or view of art. Women, on the other hand, more often organised themselves on the basis of their gender in order to fight for better rights and the possibility to be able to exhibit at all, as they were often refused admission to artists’ associations such as Grønningen. In other words, the immediate access of male artists to the privileges of the art world allowed them to focus on an artistic agenda.
Taking matters into their own hands
In 1910, Holm-Møller, who worked at the time as a sculptor, joined forces with the painters Sophie Pedersen (1885-1950), Bizzie Høyer (1888-1971), Marie Graae (1876-1944) and the aforementioned Colsmann. The five artists knew each other from the Royal Academy’s Art School for Women and the art scene in Copenhagen in general. Together they took matters into their own hands and submitted an application to Kunstforeningen (the Art Association) asking about the possibility of holding a group exhibition.
The exhibition in Kunstforeningen took place in 1911, and was unusual for the time, both because it featured five women artists who had come together for a group exhibition, and for its sheer size, with 155 works. As a consequence, it also received wide publicity in the art press of the time – to an extent not previously seen for the few group exhibitions of the period with all-female artists.
The three most critically acclaimed, and most productive, artists in the circle were Holm-Møller, Colsmann and Pedersen. They continued their correspondence and close collaboration, and subsequently exhibited as a trio three times, in 1916, 1920 and 1924. This gave them a degree of access to the art scene that they would not have been able to achieve individually. They did not have a joint name for the group, or a common ideological programme for their art, but they exhibited their many works side by side in a strategic alliance that gave them greater freedom of action and more exposure in an otherwise hierarchical art scene that was dominated by men.
Olivia Holm-Møller – a circle of artists focuses on the four exhibitions held by the group, and brings several of the works together again for the first time in over a century. Through excerpts from Holm-Møller’s letters and reviews in the daily press, the exhibition paints a portrait of a time marked by upheavals and unequal exhibition conditions – but also by a rich diversity in the art Holm-Møller saw around her as she worked towards her artistic and exhibition breakthrough at the beginning of the century, and switched role from sculptor to painter.
The exhibition has a total of six sections, with the 1911, 1916, 1920 and 1924 presentations making up one each. There is also a section with the portraits that Elise Konstantin-Hansen (1858-1946) and Holm-Møller made of each other. Konstantin-Hansen was a generation older and did not participate in the exhibition community; her inclusion here as part of Holm-Møller’s circle of artists is due to her great significance for Holm-Møller during this period. From 1900, when Holm-Møller decided to become an artist and began attending Misses Mundt and Luplau’s Drawing School, she lived with the Konstantin-Hansens. The sixth and final section contains later works by Colsmann, Pedersen and Holm-Møller, and serves to provide perspective on the development in the individual art of the three artists.
The background to the exhibition is that Holstebro Kunstmuseum has been working with Olivia Holm-Møller’s artistic practice in recent years, both through research and in the context of exhibitions. Part of these efforts have involved transcribing Holm-Møller’s almost 450-letter archive. The above quote is an example of the dialogues that Holm-Møller had with Colsmann and Elise Konstantin-Hansen, amongst others, about their conditions and exhibition opportunities. For this reason, the letters feature prominently in both the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue.
Olivia Holm-Møller is the best represented of the artists, with more than 1,100 works in Danish museums, 950 of which are in the collection of Holstebro Kunstmuseum. For Pedersen, Høyer and Graae, however, the situation is the opposite; a great deal of research work has been required to seek out works and historical material by and about these artists – not, unfortunately, always with success. The fact that our art history reveals its blind spots in this way is part of the premise and narrative of this exhibition.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue that presents the artists of the circle and their exhibition collaborations during the period. The catalogue includes contributions by curator Teresa Østergaard Pedersen and art historians Inge Lise Mogensen Bech, Ulla Angkjær Jørgensen and Pernille Zidore Nygaard. The catalogue is available in the exhibiton and in the museum shop.