The Thorvaldsens Museum Archives

N.L. Høyen and Chr. J. Thomsen

  • Kirsten-Elizabeth Høgsbro,, 1994
  • This is a re-publication of the article: Kirsten-Elizabeth Høgsbro: ‘N.L. Høyen and Chr. J. Thomsen’, in: Meddelelser fra Thorvaldsens Museum (Communications from the Thorvaldsens Museum) p. 1994, p. 172-186.
    For a presentation of the article in its original appearance in Danish, please see this facsimile scan.

In 1839 Christian Jürgensen Thomsen (1788-1865) and Niels Lauritz Høyen (1798-1870) were appointed co-curators of the Royal Collection of Painting, and held these posts until the death of Thomsen, when Høyen became sole director. They were close friends, both determined and strong-minded characters, and acknowledged authorities among the artists and connoisseurs of their time, the so-called Golden Age in Danish art history. Høyen needs no presentation to art historians. He established the chair of art history at Copenhagen University and lectured as a professor in the field for many years at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.

Thomsen is world-renowned for his epoch-making tripartite division of pre-history into Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages. His achievements as director of the Royal Collection of Painting have so far been sadly underestimated. Although Thomsen had no academic education, but was a wealthy merchant, his knowledge of history, fine arts, antiquities, coins and languages – he read and spoke German, French and English fluently – was more than adequate. He was an art connoisseur in his own right and also a collector of art. His talent for organizing museums was exceptional, and from practically nothing he built up the Museum of Nordic Antiquities. In due course, Thomsen also became director of the Royal Collection of Coins and Medals, the Ethnographical Museum, the Cabinet of Antiquities and the Collection of Sculptures and Fine Handicraft.

Thomsen was an amiable and good-natured person who got on well with everyone, whether royalty or simple peasants. Høyen was not as kind or gentle a person and he never became or wished to become a favourite of the King. When the curatorship of the Royal Collection fell vacant, the future King Christian VIII, then Prince, wanted Thomsen to occupy the post. Thomsen hesitated, realizing Høyen’s superior artistic knowledge. Somehow Thomsen succeeded in having Høyen appointed co-curator without Høyen or anybody else ever becoming aware of the delicate situation. Only in private letters to one of his closest friends, the Swedish State Antiquary Bror Emil Hildebrand, did Thomsen reveal the circumstances surrounding the appointment. It has always been common knowledge among art historians that Høyen was responsible for artistic matters at the Collection, whereas Thomsen took care of administration. This article aims to shed light on the fact that in their collaboration Thomsen’s work was not restricted to administrative tasks. He also took as active a part in purchasing Danish art for the Collection as Høyen. The two men formed a highly competent partnership and although disagreements did occasionally occur, they worked extraordinarily well together.


RA. Rigsarkivet

VHAA. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien. Stockholm

LUB. Lunds Universitetsbibliotek

KB. Det kongelige Bibliotek

NKS. Nyere kongelig Samling

NBD. Nyere Breve. Danske

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Last updated 11.05.2017