This latest film in the Exhibition on Screen series is a departure from the series’ usual practice of focusing on blockbuster artist names: it’s a profile of Wilhelm Hansen, the “Danish collector” of the title, who amassed a massive private collection of 19th-century French painting – centered on the impressionists – that was eventually donated to the Danish state in the early 1950s.
The video is inspired by the Royal Academy’s Gauguin and the Impressionists exhibition, which will open in 2020 and whose curators will be on hand to give context.
Hansen appears to be a solid if unremarkable figure: a wealthy insurance magnate whose main biographical drama appears to be getting caught up in a banking collapse, for which he was cleared of criminal involvement but whose financial ramifications forced him to sell a large portion of his collection. Much of it had been snatched up in Paris during WWI, when prices for the kind of work he was looking for had plummeted.
Hansen, on the other hand, had a keen eye for art, collecting works that covered the early modern French painting spectrum as well as its classical foundations. His main passion seemed to be the classic impressionism of Monet, Sisley, and Degas, but he also worked backwards to Delacroix, Ingres, and Corot’s basic works and forwards to Cézanne and Gauguin.
All of these items are usually kept at the Hansens’ old country residence, Ordrupgaard, which has been restored and turned into an art museum.
There’s less ground to cover in this film than in an artist biography, so it can move at a slower pace than other Exhibition on Screen offerings; the most interesting material, perhaps, is the passages covering the evolution of art-dealing in tandem with the rise of impressionism, as well as the history of collecting itself. This is a peaceful, contemplative film.