Marstrand's drawing from 1870

Portraits of Søren Kierkegaard

Wilhelm Marstrand (1810-73).
“The same evening that the news of Kierkegaard’s death spread through Copenhagen, out at the poet Johannes Fibiger’s, where he chanced to be, Marstrand made a number of loosely sketched ink drawings of Kierkegaard, from memory - one of his specialities!” Thus wrote P.A. Rosenberg, but his description is not completely true. Marstrand’s drawings of Kierkegaard were not done in 1855, but all of fifteen years later. On the other hand, it is true that one of Marstrand’s “specialities” was his memory of visual impressions, which made it possible for him to preserve the characteristic features of persons with eminent assurance. From the remaining sketches from memory it is, though, clear that he had laboriously to draw himself up to (or perhaps more correctly back to) the person from whom his many long foreign travels had kept him at a distance.


Stik. W. 6305, Acc. 1924-305. Neg. 150809.

On the sketches the profiles are without the exaggerations of caricature, but with much divergence among them; the high forehead under the brushed up hair, the thick eyelids and the rather wide mouth with the slightly upturned corners do, however, reappear, as well as the large nose, the bridge of which, Marstrand - after some consideration - choses to leave completely straight. Now he remembered Kierkegaard sitting in a room or in a café, now he reproduced him as a street character with umbrella and wearing a nasty tight-waisted coat, out of one pocket of which dangles a long hankerchief, now he depicted him - as seen here - bare-headed and standing up, but without the diagonal effect of the umbrella, by which the figure is filled with calm and achieves the effect of an observer.
Finally Marstrand made the choice of caricature and emphasized the all too large head and the correspondingly weak body as that peculiar to Kierkegaard. The umbrella is on the same occasion re-introduced as a diagonal line, the extremes of which are carefully fixed in relation to the edges of the paper; it functions almost as a lever that can move rythmically up and down with its mid-point exactly at the heart. This was well-chosen, it must be said, because Kierkegaard had an exceedingly personal relationship to his umbrella. On a loose scrap of paper from 1840 he could - under the heading “My umbrella, my friendship” - thus make known: “It has become so dear to me, that I always take it with me whether or not it rains or shines; yes, to show it that I do not love it merely for its usefulness, I sometimes walk up and down the floor in my rooms and pretend that I am out, support myself on it, put it up, support my chin with its handle, bring it up near my lips, etc.”

Based on the catalogue of the exhibit "Kierkegaard. The Secret Note", The Round Tower, Copenhagen, May 6 - June 9, 1996, arranged under the auspices of The Søren Kierkegaard Research Center by Niels Jørgen Cappelørn and The Søren Kierkegaard Society by Joakim Garff. The portraits shown here are all from the Photograph and Print Collection of the Royal Library, and are in some cases prints based on the original drawings. W. = Westergaard, Danske Portrætter i Kobberstik, Litorgrafi og Træsnit