The Great Relief

J.F. Willumsen (1863-1958)
1893-1928 Se tidslinje
J.F. Willumsens Museum, Frederikssund Se kort

By Trine Møller Madsen, art and culture writer, 2006

Life is big 

If you don’t watch out, you’ll get a knee in your face. The figures wriggle with arms and legs - and with its 4.4 metres The Great Relief is so tall that your head is exactly at a level with Adam and Eve’s naked knee caps. That is if you experience the picture live and not like here in a miniature reproduction. 

Two and two 

He/she, light/darkness, order/chaos, straight lines/curved lines - the gigantic relief is built on pairs of opposites. At the same time eight of the figures form pairs - two and two. The two men standing in water up to their navels in the middle of the picture are believed to be a double self-portrait of the artist.

The naked couple to the right stands out clearly and is the climax of the relief. In fact, they are almost on their way out of the picture. The couple is almost melted together. They are a golden symbol of the symbiosis of love. They look ahead with their arms raised. She in a defensive movement - as if in an attempt to protect their love bubble. Maybe she is afraid of being caught by the wave, which can at any time pull them out where they cannot touch bottom. 

The man behind 

The Great Relief is created by multi-artist J.F. Willumsen and is considered his very best sculpture. Willumsen’s personal and expressive art and droll mixture of materials stood out from the expressions of his time. Even today his works seem modern.
In The Great Relief Willumsen has reproduced the feelings and conditions of a human being in the course of a lifetime through bodies in all kinds of possible and impossible positions. Join the journey and discover the meaning of the individual figures. A hint: the bright sides of life to the right and the dark sides to the left.

The Great Relief, 1893-1928. Multicolored marble and other stones and gilt bronze, 440 x 646 cm. Deposited by Statens Museum for Kunst at J.F. Willumsens Museum.
Collage from J.F. Willumsens, ”Kvinder II”, s. 96-97. Made available by J.F. Willumsens Museum.
Visual Arts

Did you know?

Kilde: J.F. Willumsens Museum: Gylden storm. Tragikomisk kammeropera, s. 6-15, 1992.

Willumsen himself has described The Great Relief as a piece of music. In 1992, this idea resulted in the opera Gylden storm by Holland House by the artist Jakob F. Schokking. According to Vibeke Petersen, the then director of the museum, the opera is about "the creative artist's efforts to interpret and transform reality through his art".

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Visuel Art, 2006

In Paris, the relief is thought of in connection with a bar. He describes the bar, the grotesque musicians, the exotic sketches – the negatively charged and the positively charged are part of the complexity of the work.
Whether he himself acknowledged the absurdity of the project, it is doubtful that he created his own space, not only artistically but also personally. I do not interpret each character symbolically, it can be read in several places, but rather just describe the character.

There are four major figurations, each consisting of two figures, a dualism, + and -, three are male and female, the largest two of half men, probably a double self-portrait – all of the figures are clearly and precisely modelled as the whole of an ornamental decorative style. The background is a flat relief with men and women in fashioned, distorted positions. At the bottom, this motif moves out as the foreground and forms whole shapes. The relief is bound together here by a water and plant ornament. It is all on a dark marble wall, forming its own space, but could also be built into the architecture like his bars in Chicago.
I consider the work with all its conflicts, with its built-in weaknesses and its self-contained creator, who created, with this work, a point beyond time and place that is unavoidable for everyone living and suffering for art.


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