Andersen was an artist not only in words. As a child he made costumes for puppets. Later in life he created imaginative, colourful collage, together with exquisite papercuts of swans, ballet dancers, courtladies and other figures to amuse the children at the Danish manor houses where he was often a guest.
Throughout his youth he sketched vividly with pen and pencil. “You know, I never learned drawing, yet I often feel like putting down on paper what I cannot express in words. Friends have said, I should have been an painter. But I showed my sculptor friend Jerichau one of my drawings and in order to be praised I added “You see, I have never learned drawing…” “Yes, I can imagine that” was all he said!”
Andersen was a passionate traveller, visiting mainland Europe 29 times, a record for his day. He travelled throughout Europe and part of Asia by carriage, stage coach, horseback, mule, his own two feet and, with grateful enthusiasm, by train.“The first sensation is of a very gentle motion, as if a child’s hand were drawing the carriage. You read your book, look at your map and the train begins to glide like a sledge over the snow. You look out of the window and find, you are careering away as with horses at full gallop, but with no jolting or shaking; you seem to fly, to stand outside the globe and see it turn…” (Andersen on his first train journey in l840)He was at his happiest abroad; humorous, lighthearted, untiringly observant of detail. “I must see, see and see again. I must pack whole towns, tribes, mountains and seas into my mind…”In Italy he devours Rome, climbs Vesuvius while it is erupting, singing loudly the while, and visits Pompeii, Naples and Capri. He endures a coach journey with an Englishman who eats twice as much as everyone else and steals Andersen’s pillow.In a Greece just freed from the Turks he admires newly-built churches, palaces and coffee houses rising in Athens by the hour; he spends his birthday at the Parthenon and meets the new Greek King Otto (of Bavaria) and his Queen “who told me that potatoes had just been introduced into Greece, and so their blossom appeared the rarest and prettiest people had ever seen, and so they brought their new Queen, on her arrival from Northern Germany, a bouquet of potato flowers!”
In Constantinople he visits the bazaar, watches Howling Dervishes at Scutari and Turning Dervishes at Pera, whom he sketches in a lively manner. He journeys up the Black Sea, and spends ten days in quarantine at the fortress of Orsova on the Danube, consoled by the wild roses in the hedge “they were in quarantine too, in the green bud” and putting up from morning to night with the noise of the Bulgarian flute, which sounds “as when one blows in a tulip leaf and at the same time treads on a cat’s tail…”
Andersen was above all a satirist and social observer. “Every character is taken from life; I know and have known them all.”
He is himself THE UGLY DUCKLING, THE LITTLE MERMAID and THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER. In THE NIGHTINGALE he pays tribute to the Swedish soprano Jenny Lind, a major source of inspiration.
The 80 coloured slides accompanying this talk include many by courtesy of the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Odense. Among these are Andersen’s own sketches, papercuts and collages, and illustrations of his stories by artists from all over the world, including Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Lars Bo and Kai Nielsen. Also Danish artists of the Golden Age including Christen Kobke and Christian Jensen.
This talk has been presented at numerous branches of NADFAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies) in England and Australia, and at festivals in this country including the Barbican Festival of the North.
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