Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann – Havfruen

Something else I discovered in the Glyptoteket in Copenhagen on Saturday was the art of Polish-Danish painter Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann, who lived from 1819 until 1881. There are many of her compositions on display in Copenhagen. I found some of them very conventional and even a bit sentimental, but she undoubtedly had a distinctive way of handling light and some of her paintings are very fine indeed. I thought I’d pick this one to share as it is a large and striking oil painting that greets you when you enter the first room of Danish art (upstairs).

The title of this is Havfruen (`The Mermaid’).

Incidentally, one of the few things I know how to say in Danish is Den lille Havfrue (`The Little Mermaid’), largely because of the famous statue which is a local Copenhagen landmark. This illustrates an interesting feature of Danish grammar. Instead of adding a definite article, as one would do in English, a singular definite noun is denoted by adding the indefinite article en (or elided form) as a suffix at the end of the noun. This is the rule unless the noun is qualified by an adjective, in which case a definite article `Den’ is put at the front. Hence `the Mermaid’ is Havfruen but `the little Mermaid’ is Den lille Havfrue, owing to the presence of the adjective lille. The Mermaid above may or may not be little, but the painting certainly isn’t!

Danish grammar isn’t really all that hard – quite similar to German, actually – but the pronunciation is very challenging!

One Response to “Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann – Havfruen”

  1. The definite articles as suffixes exist not only in the other Scandinavian languages (Germanic) as well, but also in Romanian (Romance) and Macedonian (Slavic) (and, I believe, in Bulgarian (also Slavic) as well). (Most (all?) other Slavic language have no definite articles at all. In contrast, Macedonian has only minimal declination, whereas most (all?) other Slavic languages (except Bulgarian, which is about as close to Macedonian as the continental Scandinavian languages are to one another) have rather extensive declinations.)

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