Niels Christian Kierkegaard's drawings from 1838/1840

Portraits of Søren Kierkegaard

"Stukket af Knud Hendriksen". W.6298, Acc. 1919-458. Neg. 30217.

Niels Christian Kierkegaard (1806-82)
In contrast to many of his contemporaries, Kierkegaard never had a photograph taken of himself, or a daguerreotype, as it was then called. The citizens of Copenhagen were presented with this technique as early as 1842 by the Viennese portrait painter Joseph Weninger, who set up an atelier in Bredgade, where it was possible to be immortalized in fifteen seconds for eight rixdalers. Evidently this was fifteen seconds too many for Kierkegaard. How unfortunate, though most consistent for an author who wrote pseudononymously, and persistently repeated that what the reader should be concerned with was the work and not the person behind it.
Nevertheless, Søren’s second cousin, Niels Christian Kierkegaard, managed to find opportunities to draw his later so famous relative at intervals within of a couple of years. On the drawing in profile from January 1838, the line is exceedingly delicate, there is something dreamlike, but also aristocratic over the spiritual youth who has assumed this posture. The full face drawing, done around 1840, shows the narrow form of the face, which sharpens downward from the rather broad cheek bones also known from Kierkegaard’s father and his sister Petrea. The eyes are beautiful, eternally staring, while the lines of the lips are animated.


Stik. "Efter en Blyantstegning fra hans Ungdom". W.6300, Acc. 27.X.1907. Neg. 197741.

That both drawings represent an idealization is supported not only by Søren Kierkegaard’s niece, Henriette Lund, but also by the source of the drawings himself. In a letter of January 30, 1875 to P.C. Kierkegaard, Søren’s brother and the Bishop of Aalborg, he writes: “You know that I drew a little quick sketch of your brother’s profile in 1838 and several years later started another in full face, but both of these sketches are very incomplete and can only weakly refresh the memory of Søren for anyone who knew him personally; and far from provide an exact and full picture for those who have never seen him.”
Niels Christian’s reason for writing was that he had been approached repeatedly with requests to borrow his drawings for “copying and publication for the public,” which he, however, has hitherto resisted. In part because the drawings were incomplete, in part because he knew that “Søren did not wish to leave a picture of himself, and therefore played the trick on me of not showing up - after he had sat for me two times.” Since there were now plans of raising a monument for the peculiar loner, Niels Christian, however, no longer thinks that he can defend keeping back his drawings, so much more so because the alternative is that the “portrayals from the Corsair” be used. The episcopal older brother answers reluctantly and excuses himself regarding his “back and forth considerations,” in principle he is against, but in practice he has to admit that in the long run it will be difficult to keep refusing. True enough.

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.