Words and Pictures in H.C. Andersen’s Art


Paper was the main medium in H.C. Andersen’s art: he wrote on it, drew on it, made papercuts out of it, and made collages out of it. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum contains the world’s largest collection of his visual art. This research project is primarily based on this collection with the aim of examining how Andersen’s literary and visual art relate to each other. Andersen’s pictorial art is threefold in terms of genre (paper cuttings, drawings and collages), and this threefold division also appears chronologically: his paper cuttings can be seen as a constant and steady activity throughout the years 1822-1874; his drawing activity has fluctuations, with intense periods in the years 1833-34 and 1840-41 (the travel drawings) while his collage works dominate as a pictorial genre from 1850 to 1874. H.C. Andersen’s paper cuttings are linked to the tradition of “binding letters” (a former folk tradition in Denmark) many of which contain a riddle and ambiguous meanings between the image and the words. The many travel drawings demonstrate Andersen’s work with literary description, whereas the collages demonstrate Andersen’s material consciousness and interest in compilation. Since Andersen’s paper cuttings were the only pictorial work he performed as social entertainment, it can be said that they reflect the artistic execution, while the travel drawings reflect artistic preliminary studies and the picture books represent the artistic product. Andersen’s visual art is thus a visual art that invokes three stages of the creative process from idea to product.

H.C. Andersen’s art largely functions on the basis of an association principle, where the image or the individual visual impression initiates the literary work, and one can observe that Andersen, while suffering writer’s block and not in the mood to write poetry, referred to visual arts and thereby achieved an artistic starting point for the literature.

It is possible to read about this and much more in the PhD thesis “Ord og billede i H.C. Andersens kunst” (Words and pictures in H.C. Andersen’s art), University of Southern Denmark, Odense 2019.