Category Archives: Why I Love Denmark

A Royal Wedding Dress, Remodeled? How Princess Alexandra of Denmark Got It Right

When Princess Alexandra of Denmark married the Prince of Wales, in 1863, to judge from the photograph, she looked a bit like a wedding cake. The silk satin dress was festooned with tulle and specially made Honiton lace which featured English roses, Irish shamrocks and Scottish thistles. It was all very fitting for the 18-year-old who was marrying the son and heir of Queen Victoria. The dress’s train was 21 feet long and required eight bridesmaids to carry it. The photo above, Public Domain, was taken by John Jabez Edwin Mayall. Alexandra was the first royal bride to be photographed wearing her wedding dress.

I recently saw that very dress in a special exhibit at the Costume Museum in Bath, England. But wait, what happened? According to the placard, the original dress was designed by Mrs. James of London for the wedding, then remodeled that same year by Madame Elise, also of London. If I had rented the audioguide, I would probably know more about why and how this happened.

I assume that even a princess in those days might be practical and frugal enough to remake a fancy dress so as to get more use out of it. To a modern eye, the remodeled dress is much more elegant. The skirt must have been made more sleek, and some of the royal crinolines packed away for another time. (I’d cheerfully wear this dress if I were invited to a grand enough occasion. Go ahead, invite me!) This will definitely not happen with Meghan Markle’s dress after her marriage to Prince Harry. Royal wedding dresses these days cost several hundred thousand dollars, and they go straight to preservation and later display.

Princess Alexandra was known for her elegance and style. (In fact, she was so avidly followed that when an illness left her with a limp, all the stylish ladies hobbled around with the Alexandra Limp). She reportedly favored slimmer, simpler silhouettes than her new mother-in-law, Queen Victoria. That’s Alexandra above, in a portrait now in Fredericksburg Castle in Denmark. It’s by Edward Hughes, 1904. (This would be after her husband, Prince Albert Edward, became King Edward VII, and she became Queen and also Empress of the British Empire).

Here’s another of Alexandra’s dresses, elegant in its comparative simplicity.

This gown was most likely made and worn for a visit to Holyrood, the royal residence in Edinburgh.

Then as now, royals dressed carefully for visits. If I were invited to a formal dinner in Scotland, I’d cheerfully wear tartan taffeta.

After she became Queen, Alexandra added more sparkle to her gowns with elaborate beading. But the silhouette became even more sleek.

The arrival of Alexandra for her wedding was a grand occasion, painted by Henry Nelson O’Neil: “The Landing of H.R.H. the Princess Alexandra at Gravesend,” March 7 1863, Public Domain.

The marriage seemed to be a happy one, although even after he became King, Alexandra’s husband enjoyed the company of a string of mistresses. They had six children.

In her homeland of Denmark, Alexandra sponsored the building of a very English-looking church for British residents, 1885-7. It’s St. Alban’s Anglican in Copenhagen, pictured above. (Photo is by Blake Handley, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0).

I was lucky enough to take in a Christmas concert at St. Alban’s last December, and admired a memorial plaque honoring Alexandra.

Alexandra’s wedding took place in St. George’s Chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle. It’s one of the most beautiful and evocative churches I’ve ever been in, but photos are not allowed inside. I’m sure the excitement ahead of the royal wedding is intense, but then again this is a real parish church with everyday business to attend to.

As on most evenings, Evensong is probably happening–a small, intimate service which I highly recommend. (Many Anglican churches have either Evensong or Evening Prayer–a restful end to a tourist’s day). The evening I attended at Windsor, I was disappointed that I missed the Boys’ Choir. But a choir of girls had been invited instead. No photos were allowed inside, but excited girls in blue dresses, and their parents, had a once-in-a-lifetime experience–and the girls sang beautifully.

Will I be watching the royal wedding on May 19? Oh, yes! I’m looking forward to seeing a bit of the pomp and pageantry. I’ll be with two of my granddaughters, explaining to them why Britain still has royalty and why this marriage is significant. To honor the occasion properly, I stopped at the local Dollar Store to get tiaras for us all to wear, plus crepe paper and such to decorate the living room. We’ll be wishing Harry and Meghan a long and happy life together. (And drinking tea and eating scones warm from the oven, of course–the wedding is at 6:00 am where I am in the USA).

Postscript, post-wedding: Meghan Markle was a breathtaking bride in a classically sleek wedding gown by Claire Waight Keller of Givenchy.

Here are some more of my excited screenshots. It sounds as though this royal bride will make social consciousness and public service her life’s work now. In my opinion, this is what makes all the pomp and pageantry of royalty worthwhile in today’s world. I wish her the best.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art, culture and history of Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles!

Some Danish Moms for Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day in the USA, and I’m thinking of a portrait I admired last winter in Copenhagen’s National Gallery. It’s “At the French Windows, the Artist’s Wife.” Lauritz Anderson Ring painted it in 1897. This portrait must have given some people pause. Even in Denmark, this was the Victorian era.

Here’s the whole painting. Putting the belly of an obviously pregnant woman front and center was a bit daring. But the artist had just married Sigrid Kahler in 1896. He was in love! And he was a freethinker, moving away from sentimental and constraining views of women (paraphrasing the gallery’s caption, which, thankfully, is in English as well as Danish).

Even earlier, in 1884, Michael Ancher painted “Portrait of My Wife.” It’s just across the park in the small but perfect Hirschsprung Gallery.

His wife, Anna Ancher, was a renowned artist herself. She painted ordinary interior scenes with extraordinary subtle colors, like “The Girl in the Kitchen” above, 1881-1884. It’s also in the Hirschsprung Gallery. Anna refused to give up her painting after her marriage, but she clearly loved and valued the small humble tasks raising a family. I’m sure Anna spent plenty of time on housekeeping herself, but I’m glad she didn’t put away her paintbrush just because she had children.

And rounding out my Danish salute to motherhood, here’s “Mother and Child,” 1860, by the Danish painter Constantin Hansen, also in the Hirschsprung.

Here’s to mothers everywhere!

Easter in Copenhagen: Church-Lady Angels, A Sunburned Gardener, and Thermal Onesies

Last winter in Copenhagen, I admired a very unusual Easter-themed painting in the Hirschsprung Gallery. Joakim Skovgaard painted it as an altarpiece in 1890. The title is translated as “Christ Welcomes the Penitent Thief into Paradise.”

In the Biblical account, one of the thieves executed with Christ admitted his sins, repented, and begged desperately for help. Christ promised him, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise.” I’ve never seen this event depicted anywhere else, maybe because I’m not Catholic. I understand the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of this man, now called St. Dimas, around Easter time. I think his feast day is March 25.

I admire the gentle realism of the painting, along with the liberal use of gold leaf. Three angels with gold haloes AND rose wreaths stand ready with new clothes and a pitcher of water. They look like very earthly angels, wearing pretty Scandinavian jackets and embroidered dresses. Their wings are barely visible; these angels could easily pass for kindly church ladies. (They’ve probably also made a nice casserole and some lemon bars for their newest guest).

Above are some actual church ladies, for comparison. They were helping people at the Christmas bazaar at the Swedish Church in Copenhagen this past November. I have a high opinion of angels as well as helpful church ladies in pretty Scandinavian outfits.

Paradise has a thick wall with guard towers and a narrow door.

An angel with a flaming sword guards the door. I especially like this angel’s gold armor and comfy gold sandals.

So which side of the wall is Paradise? At first I thought the angel with the flaming sword was “inside.” But that side of the wall drops off sharply into nothingness. The flaming-sword angel perches on some kind of pillar beside the door, looking off into the nothingness in case anyone else approaches. I think Christ has already ushered the thief through the door and on into Paradise, which looks a lot like rural Denmark in springtime. Or maybe it looks like the Garden of Eden. But I don’t want to overthink the theology here, not that I know enough theology to overthink it. I just like the painting.

Religiously themed art is not very common outside of churches in Scandinavia. And the churches tend to be austere. This altarpiece must have been a real center of attention and worship. I’d like to have seen it in the church it was painted for.

For those who celebrate Easter more as the beginning of spring, here’s another Hirschsprung Gallery painting from the same time period. Fritz Syberg painted “Spring” in 1891-93.

A sturdy fellow in wooden clogs cheerfully rakes the bare soil. It looks like he’s been at it long enough to get a bit of sunburn.

Neighbors stroll and gaze off into the distance under flowering fruit trees. They look glad to be outside. Winters are long and hard in Scandinavia. But spring finally comes.

In nearby Tivoli Park last December, thousands of hyacinths were featured in the Christmas flowerbeds–a real novelty in the long winter. (Temperatures were around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, almost the same day and night. I wondered if the plants were dug up and put to bed in a greenhouse while the park was closed at night).

It wasn’t cold enough to snow in early December. The dusting of pretend snow on the hyacinths must have been sprinkled by human hands.

We were lucky enough to also be in Copenhagen last April (we liked it so much we went back in December). Even in spring, we bundled up in layers of sweaters and raincoats.

Actually, I think it was colder in April than in December. I was wishing I had a parka, or better yet, a onesie snowsuit like the ones all the kids wear.

Chilly or not, I’m sure the Tivoli flower beds are overflowing again this spring with tulips and daffodils. I’d like to be there again.

Happy Easter and happy spring!

First Day of Spring

I think spring is coming late to England this year. I’ll be there soon, and I’m thinking there might still be snow in the ground. Or flooded spring rivers. Still, I’m hoping for tulips. They were spectacular a couple of years ago.

These were in the gardens of Ann Hathaway’s thatched-roof cottage near Stratford-on-Avon.

The tulips and daffodils were in bloom at Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, where Richard III’s banqueting hall lies in picturesque ruins, sheltering a Tudor Knot Garden (planted much later, using Tudor designs).

Fruit trees blossomed overhead…

…and in St. Mary’s Church on the castle grounds, angels hovered over the Victorian tomb of Queen Catherine Parr, the last wife of King Henry VIII. (Her coffin was lost for a few centuries following the English Civil War, when the castle was “slighted” by Cromwell’s troops).

I was on the lookout for bluebells in all the woodsy places.

We should have been on the lookout for hidden springtime potholes too. This one caused not one but two flat tires on our rental car. Country roads are narrow, we’re driving on the “wrong side,” and sometimes we have to swerve.

Where I live in the mountains of Colorado, it’s still winter. The moose are finding tender branches to chomp, though.

In the dead of winter, I admired a painting by Fritz Syberg, from 1892. It’s called simply “Spring.”

Birds sing, rivers flow, and trees bud.

The young girl’s face is oddly melancholy. Or maybe she is just thoughtful.

Art should make us think. Travel makes us think too, about the past, about being present in the moment (even if the moment involves flat tires), and about the future. I’m anxious to be off again!

High Fashion at Copenhagen Design Museum

In honor of Fashion Week in New York City, I thought I’d post photos showing the closest I ever get to high fashion. In December, Copenhagen’s Design Museum, which covers an entire city block, featured an exhibit of the work of Erik Mortenson, a Danish designer who worked in Paris for years.

He was creative director at the couture houses of Pierre Balmain and Jean-Louis Scherrer between 1982 and 1995.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not particularly interested in seeing the navels and other anatomical parts the rich and famous like to display on red carpets these days. I could do with a return to elegance.

I could even do with a return to covered-up elegance.

For afternoon tea at the Ritz, maybe you’d like a satin Bermuda shorts ensemble? Didn’t think so, but somebody paid cash money…

For an evening entertaining guests at the chateau, how about velvet PJ pants with a handwoven ethnic-looking top?

Out on the street, how about a fun fur?

Or a pretty red wool number that I could (almost) see myself wearing?

People seriously interested in design could study the detailing on these hand-made works of wearable art.

Whether anyone actually wore them, couture designers have always come up with out-there designs. Those are bat-wing sleeves above–note the mannequin’s hands below. Who knows what holds up those finely-pleated silk sleeves? Sometimes fashion is mystery.

Sometimes super-wide hips can be fashionable.

They were in the eighteenth century, as in this wedding gown in the adjoining historic fashion gallery.

A wedding gown that Mr. Mortenson designed for a favorite niece in 1982 left me a little cold. It had a few ruffles and pearls too many for my taste. But I’m sure the groom thought his bride was the most beautiful woman in the world when she walked up the aisle.

The Design Museum also featured an exhibit on Japanese influences on Danish design–more on that later.

Half the fun of design museums is seeing what people wear.

As for me, my idea of high fashion is high ALTITUDE fashion.

I’m very happy to qualify for a senior-discount season pass at Steamboat, and to still be able to stay vertical on the mountain (most of the time). I do come in a lot earlier than I used to, which leaves plenty of time for dreaming of trips to come.

Love in the Air in Copenhagen

Every Saturday, couples in love keep appointments in Copenhagen’s beautiful and romantic City Hall.

It seems to be THE prime wedding venue in Denmark.

Possibly a formal tour would include the actual wedding hall.

But we were there on a busy Saturday, and without an invitation, we got only as far as a beautiful anteroom where friends and relatives gather.

Romantic frescoes cover the walls.

What’s this story about? I can’t read Danish, but I’m pretty sure it’s a love story.

Kids run around on the intricate tile floor.

Families gather, anxious to take their parts in the back-to-back ceremonies scheduled all day.

Happy couples pose for photos in the stairwells and hallways.

That great Danish Romantic, Hans Christian Anderson, watches couples come and go. (Sadly, the great love of his life was unrequited and he died a single man).

Maybe the newly married leave with some design ideas for their new homes? I certainly would. The City Hall is grand, yet most of the design elements look handcrafted. I’m going to copy some motifs myself.

Happy Valentine’s Day from Copenhagen!

Copenhagen’s Romantic City Hall

My new favorite City Hall is in Copenhagen.

Why do I even have a favorite City Hall? In most cities, it’s about the last place I’d care to visit. I remember a long-ago trip to Winnipeg, Canada, when I spent several frustrating hours in the City Hall dealing with a fender-bender. (The only consolation was that I got to see an actual Canadian Mountie in his spiffy red jacket).

But Scandinavian countries like Denmark are proudly secular societies. City Hall is front and center in people’s lives, much as cathedrals are in other cities.

Martin Nyrop designed the building in National Romantic Style. To me, it looks distinctly Jugendstihl, Art Nouveau, or Arts and Crafts. This is not surprising for a building inaugurated in 1905, the heyday of these artistic movements. In Denmark, the movement was called “Skonvirke,” meaning “aesthetic work.”

A gilded statue of Absalon stands grandly above the main entrance. Absalon (also known, maybe to his buddies, as Axel) lived from 1128 to 1201. He was a warrior, politician, and archbishop–a Renaissance man before there was a Renaissance. He conquered pirates who plagued early Denmark, expanded its territories, built the first fortifications of what is now Copenhagen, and began untangling Denmark from the Holy Roman Empire. I don’t know whether he was also a kingmaker, but King Valdemar I leaned on him for counsel.

Just inside the main entrance, I think Absalon is dispensing good advice. (Or maybe this is the king–I couldn’t find any information and there was no tour going on).

In early December, the great central hall was being set up for an event. Another time I visited, there was a fascinating exhibit about immigrants to Denmark. (I wouldn’t mind emigrating to Denmark myself).

Inside on a weekday, city workers walk up and down beautiful staircases and go calmly about their business in hushed corridors.

Visitors are free to wander, taking in the beauty everywhere.

Some doorways are carved and fitted with elegant hardware.

All the other doorways have colorful painted decoration. No two are the same.

Even a janitor’s hallway slop sink is a thing of beauty.

The great and good are featured in murals, but so are working people. Tycho Brahe, above, lived from 1546 to 1601. He was a Danish nobleman and a great astronomer, but in this most egalitarian country, machinists and laborers are also honored.

Carved workmen trudge up a staircase. I especially like the man carrying a sheet of glass for a window.

Other spaces are more grand, with murals and ceilings celebrating Copenhagen’s history.

An owl stands at the doorway to the city archives. I have a feeling that important papers don’t get lost here in this most civilized City Hall. It’s no wonder that Denmark’s citizens line up at their beautiful City Hall every Saturday to celebrate their weddings. More on that on Valentine’s Day!