Once in a mythical and indigo sunset, I stumble, if not crash, into an artful find that excites me. Yes, Gentle Reader, you indeed know me well. Suçh a discovery sobs to be shared. Such is true for Hans Christian Andersen’s rarely discussed Victorian bedroom screen. The Copenhagen (kʰøb̥m̩ˈhɑʊ̯ˀn) artist, author, and dreamer meticulously created the eight images over one Winter: 1873-74.
Anderson had been declining steadily. The jaundiced, arthritic, colic, and depressed storyteller became belligerent, angry, and altogether hateful. Gone were his refined nature, pleasures in life, sensitive nature, and appreciation of others. In correspondence that Christmas, he admitted: “If this is how old age comes, then it is quite terrible.
His blend of disease and malady kept him indoors and prisoner in his Nyhavn apartment for months. To occupy himself in his isolation, he crafted a reversible four-paneled screen to function as a moveable wall. hide his bed. The surfaces measured almost unwieldily 5′ x 2′.
He devoted weeks to each panel creating magnificent collages of images of buildings, familiar landmarks and icons, and miniature portraits as well as his own “paper cuttings”. Each incorporated representations of both a country from among his journeys as well as tributes to significant relationships. In his pastime, Andersen had already enjoyed a great deal of time manipulating paper into images similar to those of paper-dolls but made more difficult by keeping the perimeter intact.
“I have had no thought of any creative writing; my only occupation has been to make a screen. I have tried to include a poetic idea or a historical representation in each section and one could say that the whole effect is that of a great, variegated fairytale. Although I would rather have committed such a tale to paper with pen and ink than simply cut out pictures and juxtapose them to suit my train of thought.” ( Hans Christian Andersen in a letter to Mimi Holstein, 17 March 1874.)
Sadly, “The Little Mermaid”, “Thumbelina”, and “The Little Matchstick Girl” impresario died the following year, released from his almost all-consuming suffering. Anderson was so debilitated that he had reached the dreaded state when only a multitude of morphine can offer relief.
In fact, he has over a hundred of these works of reverence and imagination on display in the Odense City Museum system. Also included, naturally, is his boyhood home.
I purpose omitted most of his pertinent bio-bits. Most of us know at least same of his 156 fairy tales, many of which have brought many dollars to Disney Corp.’s coffer. Some may also have seen the 1952 film with Frank Loesser’s music that made actor/dancer/singer Danny Kaye even more of a household name and increasing the Dane’s celebrity and worldwide impact.