Niels Laurits Høyen

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Niels Laurits Høyen : biography

4 June 1798 – 29 April 1870

Høyen’s interest and enthusiasm for Danish art history was noticed by such influential men as Finance Deputy Jonas Collin, who has also participated in establishing the Art Union and was Secretary for the royal discretionary funds. These funds were used in 1829 to give Høyen a one-time grant to travel and study preservation-worthy art in the Danish provinces. Høyen traveled to Kronborg, Lund (Lund Cathedral), Lübeck, Holstein and some areas in Schleswig registering Denmark’s national treasures. The one-time grant was again given to Høyen in 1830, and in 1832 he received a two-year grant.

With Professor Niels Iversen Schow’s retirement in February 1829, he became Professor of History and Mythology at the Academy of Art, of which art history was a part of the curriculum. Soon art history became the focus of his teaching, and in 1831 focus was also placed on his compiling a history of Danish art.

He married Edele Birgitte Westengaard on 8 April 1832.

Høyen’s legacy

Høyen played a vital role in Danish nationalistic painting’s development around the middle of the 19th century. He advised young artists against going abroad to study art; rather, he insisted, they would be better served to remain in Denmark, undergo training and become independent before allowing themselves to be exposed to foreign influences. Høyen encouraged them to paint native landscapes and Danish monuments to the illustrious past, as well as to paint the people and surroundings of humble agricultural origin where life had not changed so much under industrialization.

His influence on art and artists also had its opposition, such as painter and Academy professor Wilhelm Marstrand who wrote, "Hvad menes der med, at kunsten skal være national? […] ligesom den samme Sol skinner over hele Verden, saaledes er Kunsten ikke bundet" ("What does it mean that art needs to be national? … In the same way that the same sun shines over the whole earth, so is art not bound (to a specific land).")

Art in Denmark was split into two groups during this period, those oriented towards the Nordic (known as ”the blondes”) and those internationally oriented towards Europe (known as ”the brunettes”). At the higher levels the Nordic trend won, but it meant isolation for Danish art. At the World Exhibition in Paris 1878, a critic wrote that "nok er Danmark repræsenteret ved kunstnere, men ikke med kunst" ("Denmark is well represented with artists, but not with art").

Only parts of his lectures have been preserved in writing, and only a single one has been published. His works were published as a final act by the Nordic Art Society 1871-1876.

His legacy as an art historian and critic was followed up by Julius Lange, who quickly took over Høyen’s positions at the Academy and the University shortly after his death.

Growing up and early training

Høyen was born in Copenhagen to distiller Anders Larsen Høyen and wife, Inger Margrethe. He was bright and did well in school. He was an avid reader, and was interested in art and history. He was lucky to have access to the day’s cultured homes that had been opened up to gifted students from modest backgrounds. He started his higher education in 1816. He first studied law, then theology, and then history, before finalising his studies with art history. He received a Cand. Phil.

He then became a student at the Drawing School of the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) where he learned perspective and anatomy, and had access to such artists as Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, Christian David Gebauer and Jens Peter Møller. He took part in establishing the Student Union.

With economic support from his father he left Copenhagen in September 1822 for a three-year student travel through Germany, Austria and Italy