A Talented Danish Art Family

The Skovgaard Family

Some families seem to be able to produce so much talent in generations. One of those families is the Skovgaard family. In Viborg Cathedral, you can see frescos made by Joakim Skovgaard (1856-1933). The decoration in the church is one of the hugest church works in Denmark.

A view into Viborg Cathedral with Joakim Skovgaard frescos and paintings

A view into Viborg Cathedral with Joakim Skovgaard frescos and paintings

A view into Viborg Cathedral with Joakim Skovgaard frescos and paintings

A view into Viborg Cathedral with Joakim Skovgaard biblical murals and paintings

In my childhood, before I could read, I often looked at his sketches in my parent’s book of the motives used for the church frescos. They were dramatic, and I was afraid of the sight of the drowning people at the sin flood. By looking at the page in the scetch book, I observed Adam and Eve being driven out of Eden thinking about the severe consequences of our actions can have.

At his time, Joakim was more famous than his brother Niels (1858-1938), who is now having a renaissance. Both of them travelled abroad to learn from other artists and explore motives and light in other countries.  


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Some of Joakim Skovgaard’s works

Their sister Susette 1863-1937, could not as a woman attend the art Academy as her brothers but took private lessons in painting.


Susette was five years old when her mother died and twelve years old when her father passed away. The brothers stayed in the house with a painter who lived there and Susette moved across the street to friends of the family where Hans Christian Andersen often visited to entertain the children.

Niels Skovgaard

Niels Skovgaard, View over the sea in Jutland, Denmark, 1894

Niels Skovgaard, View over the sea in Jutland, Denmark, 1894. He was inspired by the Impressionists

In their childhood, all three Skovgaard siblings also got training by their father P.C. Skovgaard (1817-1875), who was famous in the so-called “Golden Age” of Romanticism. He mostly painted landscapes. His faith in God and in our National State of Denmark shines through his works.

When the Skovgaard siblings were still children, they lost their mother during the birth of a stillborn child. In a letter on display at the museum, a relative described the last hours before she died. The family had a strong faith in God during this enormous loss.


Their father P.C. Skovgaard painted the children a few years after their mother’s death. P.C. Skovgaard lived in a time of Nationalism where Denmark and other countries strived to get away from the total power of the king and gain independence. He was among famous artists and thinkers who fought for this cause and his he painted Danish landscapes to illustrate the beauty of green beech trees like a metaphor of our nationality. Inspired by other revolutions, we got our Constitution in 1849. Our transition from absolute monarchy was peaceful as it is said about our national character that the intervals between our meals are too short of making a revolution.


I am impressed that they all managed so well in their life. They were skilled artists, and Joakim and Niels raised large families. They, like their father before them, were friends with thinkers and artists of their time. One of them was Thorvald Bindesbøll who performed in clay and sculpture and silver, was inspired by the English Beaux-Arts. All three siblings made art of pottery for decoration and use in households as well of paintings.


In Viborg, since 1937 the old town Hall is the Skovgaard Museum. The museum is situated at the same square as the Cathedral with the eighty-four biblical frescos created by Joakim Skovggard.

Part of the Skovgaard Museum in Viborg

Part of the Skovgaard Museum in Viborg

For more information on the museum, please visit the link above.



      • What a lovely offer, and perhaps one day I will be able to take you up on it. My friends with the dairy farm have passed on now. I am in contact with the grandchildren, whose lives have gravitated to Copenhagen. As in Australia, I understand dairy farm co-operatives are becoming non-viable in Denmark, and not so many of this generation enjoy the farm life.
        My friend who lived in Uppsala also passed a few years ago.
        Nevertheless, one day I WILL get back to Scandinavia.

        Liked by 1 person

      • What a coincidence, I lived in Uppsala Sweden for five years in the 1990’s and my oldest son lives there now with his family.
        You are right only farms driven as big factories survive nowadays

        Liked by 1 person

      • My friend was Sylvia Menn-Karlsson. It would be a weird coincidence if you knew her, but she worked for the Chamber of Commerce, so it always possible. She came to Sweden from Germany as an au pair in the 60s and never went home. I met her when she holidayed on Crete and I was working there in the hotel. We stayed in touch until her passing only a couple of years ago. She was also a very good photographer. You may have seen some of her work.


      • I haven’t heard about her but would like to see some of her photography. I am very interested in photos, and right now I am taking an online course on the subject from MOMA via Coursera.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I do have some in digital format. Most often Sylvia would combine many onto a pdf document and email that. Then of course, I have many, many letters which pre-date email, and include photos scanned onto paper. They wouldn’t present well with another scan and upload. Sylvia’s passion developed decades before digital cameras; and she was very in tune with the manual controls on her film camera; depth of field, stops, exposure, etc.
        Personally, I always preferred film also; as when you pressed the shutter, the moment was captured instantly. With the digital, I found a slight delay (at least in the early cameras), which could make all the difference to an expression on an animal, for example. Earlier this year, I sold my last 35mm SLR film camera to a dealer. He admired its condition, and rang me back to say he had on sold it to a young female film and photography student at the local university. She was thrilled.
        I hope you too enjoy your course.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Hi, I came across your blog post whilst doing a search on Denmark. It is fascinating reading about the Skovgaard family. My Danish grandmother was born in Viborg in 1928 and lived there until about 1946. In May 1945, a English soldier was stationed in Viborg and my grandmother was courted by him. They were married in Viborg Cathedral and moved to Doncaster, England. The frescoes are, indeed, brilliant. In regards to the Skovgaard family being talented, I wonder if it was something which was cultivated by the local government. One of my grandmother’s brothers, Harald Corsegaard, was a painter and lived a Bohemian lifestyle in the early 20th century, supporting himself by selling his paintings to local cafes across Europe; I inherited one of his paintings and it hangs on my living room wall. As for the rest of the Corsegaard family, I’m not sure, although I do know that my great-grandmother was keen to ensure that all her children took an interest in culture and education and that they could play the piano and accordion. My grandmother was particularly skilled in linguistics and could speak fluent English and switch between English and Danish without hesitation; her tutor could speak several languages fluently. It was apparently a rare skill in Denmark in the 1940s and her fluency got her noticed by the Danish government after the Second World War. She was invited to an official dinner in Viborg by the Danish government to interpret between the Danes and the American and British ambassadors.

    Also, I’m aware that the Viborg local authority is currently promoting Viborg as a centre of cultural excellence and cultural exchange. It seems that Viborg has a strong cultural tradition.


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