Look, the Museum Is Smiling


The colourful museum denoted a breach with the grey facades of late Neo-Classicism in Copenhagen. On its corner on Slotsholmen, the Museum stood provocatively with it coloured facades inspired by Pompeian murals. The facade is like a mighty shop window, an X-ray picture of the Museum’s contents: some of the sculptures to be experienced inside the building are seen in pictorial form, just as lions and tigers are painted on the outside of a circus tent.

The facades were executed in a fresco technique, although cement mortar was used instead of lime mortar, the latter being considered less durable. The outer coat of colour, however, was lime based. Not surprisingly, this was to lead to problems in combining the cement mortar with the lime colour. The colours changed only a few years after construction. In 1860, repairs were carried out, and in the following decades experiments were made with new technical methods. In 1951 it was decided to recreate the whole of the external frieze, and the task was given to the painter Axel Salto. The original pictures were taken down and are now kept in store. The new pictures were executed in coloured lime/cement mortar.

Now, 40 years later, dirt and decomposition have again transformed the museum with the radiant yellow facades into a brown, slightly indeterminate pile. The National Museum has undertaken some successful attempts at cleaning, but at the same time has noted an extensive decomposition of the lime cement binding material, which leads to a leaching of the dyes in the plaster. Whatever it is decided to do, the final result ought to be that we can again use Thorvaldsen’s own words and say: “Look, the Museum is smiling”.

Last updated 29.10.2018