Niels Laurits Høyen

Niels Laurits Høyen bigraphy, stories - Historians

Niels Laurits Høyen : biography

4 June 1798 – 29 April 1870

Niels Laurits Andreas Høyen, (4 June 1798 – 29 April 1870), Danish is considered to be the first Danish art historian and critic. He promoted a Danish nationalistic art through his writings and lectures, and exerted a far reaching effect on contemporary artists. His work in various cultural institutions helped steer the development of Danish art during the mid-19th century.

Høyen’s profound reach on Danish art life

The Art Union sponsored competitions which set its mark on artists’ production. In its competition of 1834 one of the subjects was landscape painting featuring a Danish locale. Another that same year called for an interior or exterior view of a noteworthy or characteristic Danish building or public place. These competitions inspired Golden Age of Painting artists Christen Købke, Jørgen Roed and Constantin Hansen to paint such national-historical treasures as Danish church interiors and exteriors and views of Danish castles. The Art Union’s purchases of art work helped support artists in a time of dwindling royal economic support. Christen Købke’s first mature work "View of Århus Cathedral" (Parti af Århus Domkirke), painted in 1829, was purchased by the Art Union and is now in the collection of the Danish National Gallery (Statens Museum for Kunst).

His notes from his travels around Denmark are kept in the archives of the National Museum of Denmark, and these have served as the basis for a national understanding of Denmark’s art history. His view and understanding of the nation’s treasures, have helped other’s understand the importance of works found throughout the country. He provided advice to artists, and was up-to-date on new developments.

In 1836 he was awarded a royal grant to travel to Paris on art historical research.

In 1839 he took over the position of Inspector of the Royal Painting Collection after Johan Conrad Spengler’s death, and then became Director of the same after the death of Christian Jurgensen Thomsen in 1865. The old collection, which was housed in the recently rebuilt Christiansborg Palace, was resuscitated as Høyen removed lesser works, moved important works over from royal residences and castles throughout the country, and arranged the works for best effect. Additionally he was instrumental in the purchase of new works by the country’s prominent new artists.

In March 1844 he held his famous lecture "Om Betingelserne for en skandinavisk Nationalkonsts Udvikling" ("On the conditions for the development of a.Scandinavian National Art"), which inspired many to search out a new national and Scandinavian understanding of culture and art. This inspired genre artists, such as Frederik Vermehren, Julius Exner and Christen Dalsgaard, as well as landscape artists such as Johan Thomas Lundbye og P.C. Skovgaard.

He promoted a national art, and in 1847 he established the Nordic Art Society (Selskabet for nordisk Kunst). He gave lectures to a broader public, and on 26 June 1856 he was named as the first professor in art history at the University of Copenhagen.

He helped establish the large painting collection at Frederiksborg Castle, of which much was lost in the fire of 1859.

He was transitional director for the painting collection at Christiansborg Palace.

Høyen also gave lectures as part of a series from the Danish Church Historical Society, which starting in 1852 held meetings around the country in prominent churches, first off the country’s cathedrals. His lectures were usually given on the subject of the church itself where the meetings were held, thus bringing into immediate focus the objects and artworks directly at hand. He was a member of the Society’s leadership 1861-1870, and helped lead the rebuilding of Viborg Cathedral 1864-1876 before his death in 1870.

Early career

He was given the opportunity to give lectures at the Art Academy during the winter 1826-1827 on antique paintings. He was one of the founding members of the Art Union (Kunstforeningen) in 1827, and he helped edit the first three volumes of "Maanedsskrift for Litteratur" ("Monthly Journal of Literature") in 1829. He resided in Hillerød a short time in 1828, during which time he became familiar with the large collection of artwork, mainly portraits, which were housed in Frederiksborg Castle, now The Museum of National History with Denmark’s most important collection of portraits and history paintings.