Art – on location
Many a legend tells of how the transition from pagan religions to Christianity became a battle of places. Christian churches became the new gathering place for artists, not least the writing reverends.
The political and economic reforms of the Absolute Monarchy in the latter half of the 17th century brought changes in the cultural landscape as well. Market towns and the provinces as a whole, once on a par with the capital, began to lose ground. But as their towns and regions began to lag behind, many people started to look at their hometowns with new, nostalgic eyes. This even gave rise to a new literary school on Funen in the 1680s, led by bishop and hymn writer Thomas Kingo.
Although Ludvig Holberg, the leading cultural figure of the 18th century, displayed an exhaustive knowledge of Copenhagen in his play Den ellevte Juni (The Eleventh of June), he wound up a baron in provincial Sorø.
In the late 18th century, poets and painters began to develop a greater sensitivity for their environment. Johannes Ewald wrote about the "bliss" of the coastal village of Rungsted, between the "golden heaps" of the field, and the Sound's "forest of masts", and by doing so established it as the capital of Danish poetry.
The headquarters of the Golden Age
As the country stood upon the threshold of the 19th century, Danish Romantics found a gathering place in Bakkehuset at the foot of Valby Hill on the outskirts of Copenhagen – where urban met rural. Inspired by part-owner Kamma Rahbek, figures such as Adam Oehlenschläger, Jens Baggesen, Hans Christian Andersen and others who would become the pillars of Danish arts, defined what was to become known as "Denmark's Golden Age".
Sorø Academy became the gathering point for other artists of the day. One of them was B.S. Ingemann, who earned a following with his hymns and his historical novels.
The Romantics preferred the countryside, but philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, like Socrates before him, preferred the city, far away from the birds and the trees he said could teach him nothing. Copenhagen's squares, is roads and its alleyways are a common thread in his writings, and in his philosophical novel Johannes Forføreren (A Seducer's Diary), he notes that you can tell a Copenhagener by his "appraising" glance.
From the high street to high society
When Copenhagen began to tear down its city walls at the end of the 19th century, the city's growth served as a foundation for its dreams of greatness. In the 1887 novel Stuk, Herman Bang lets his alter ego Herluf Berg declare that "all my talent emanates from my relationship with this city".
But the modern breakthrough, as this period came to be known, touched off an intense curiosity about all the places that lay beyond the city boundaries. Poet Holger Drachmann frequented the sea and the beach, and travelled together with painters P.S. Krøyer and Anna and Michael Ancher to the remote fishing village of Skagen. Just as Parisian painters of the 1820s gathered in Barbizon in order to live out their passion for peinture en plein air, Copenhagen artists crossed the country to visit Skagen and immortalise its weather-beaten fishermen.
The artists' colonies that spread throughout Europe during the 19th century bear witness to their urge to establish their own worlds. But there was also the paradox of artists paying for their rural freedom with the money they earned by selling their works to urban patrons.
The home of my fathers
The 1890s saw the establishment of an artists' colony on Funen, centred on the painter Johannes Larsen's house in Kerteminde. Unlike the Skagen painters, who were outsiders in the world they painted, members of the Funen School were natives. The catchphrase of the day – "the home of my fathers" – tells of artists increasingly seeking their roots and their inspiration in their home town. Johannes V Jensen, who sung the praises of the Funen School, once described his own writings as "the chronicle" of his native Himmerland, and writers like Martin Andersen Nexø and Jeppe Aakjær changed their last names to the name of their home town.
Starting in 1907, Aakjær and his wife, wood carver Nanna Aakjær, turned their farm Jenle, near Salling in Jutland, into a cultural centre that was to serve as a counterweight to the cafés of Copenhagen.
The same period also saw painters such as Oluf Høst spend the summer on the Baltic island of Bornholm. It was a time of change, and Bornholm's rocky landscape was just the place to experiment with form and style.
Rural – but not too rural
Around the same time, a sculptor by the name of Rudolph Tegner "discovered" the barren but picturesque moors near the coastal village of Hornbæk, north of Copenhagen. He converted the land to an open-air sculpture park and built a windowless museum that most of all resembled a bunker. The closed-in nature of the building served as a demonstrative way of closing the artist off for all influences except his own creative mind.
After World War II, many artists embraced the comfort of tradition. One group, that rallied around a journal titled "Heretica" from 1948, got into peasant culture – but only those peasants outside Copenhagen they could reach by train. Artist such as Ole Wivel and Frank Jæger settled outside the city - not far from Louisiana in Humlebæk, the modern art museum founded by Knud W. Jensen.
Further south along the coast towards Copenhagen, poets had rediscovered the bliss of Rungsted. Rungstedlund, the farm owned by Karen Blixen – who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen – was rebuilt by Steen Eiler Rasmussen, and has been the home of the Danish Academy since 1960.
The 1960s and '70s saw an exodus to safety of life behind the privet hedge, but it wasn't until the end of the 20th century that they began to add their accents to the nation's cultural voice when novelist Klaus Rifbjerg gave literary credo to Copenhagen's maligned Amager district, and poet Dan Turèll put the non-descript Vangede on the map.