Orla Muff, “Nana”, 1934, Oil on Canvas, 45.1 x 55.3 cm, Private Collection
Born in April of 1903 in Copenhagen, Orla Andreas Heinrik Jacobsen was a Danish painter and illustrator. From 1917 to 1921, he received his formal art education at the Copenhagen Technical School under Carl Lund, the leading theatrical artist of the time. In 1917, he adopted a change in name to Orla Muff.
In 1918, Muff was awarded a distinguished seat at the Day’s Drawing Concourse, an event held by Children’s Aid, and had his first drawing printed on a postcard. In the same year he drew one hundred different illustrations depicting gnomes for a series of postcards, which was released in large editions several times. Muff’s illustrations for the early postcards were signed with an intertwined O and J standing for Orla Jacobsen. He continued to design postcards until the late 1960s; these later works were signed with Orla Muff.
After his studies with Carl Lund, Orla Muff began a period of travel through Europe where he studied in Sweden, Holland, France and Germany. He achieved acclaim early in his career as a designer of elaborate Art Deco styled sets for prominent European revues and theatrical productions. Included among these designs were sets for performances at Copenhagen’s Folk Theater, Austrian-born theatrical producer Max Reinhardt’s Theater in Berlin, and Norway’s Mayol Theater in Oslo.
In addition to his set designs, Muff began easel painting in the early 1930s; he created portraits, figurative works, and abstract paintings. His work is characterized by a refined sophistication and a predominantly light-toned color scale. Muff’s abstract compositions, executed in the styles of the Art Deco and Cubist movements, often contain mythologically inspired figures set in largely monochromatic backgrounds.
Painted in his early thirties, Orla Muff’s 1934 “Nana” is an Art Deco derived, Expressionist oil portrait of a young, high-spirited woman, shown smoking a cigarette and set against a mottled turquoise background. Muff’s use of strong lighting effects produced a dramatic and psychologically penetrating portrait of this young woman.
During the course of his career, Orla Muff exhibited successfully in many European exhibitions and was the recipient of juried awards and prizes. Among his notable works are “Leda and the Swan” exhibited in 1940; the 1940 oil on canvas “Tropical Jungle Women”; a 1947 series of wooden sculptural figures based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales; a 1957 series of illustrations from the Bible for use in films; and posters, costume designs, and theater decorations executed in 1921 and 1922 for performances of Anderson’s tales at the Mayol Theater in Oslo.
Orla Muff died in the city of Copenhagen in December of 1984. A small collection of personal correspondence from Orla Muff to Dr. Raymond Piper, as well as a photo of the artist and photos of Muff’s artwork, can be found in the Special Collections of the University of West Georgia.
Notes: An extensive collection of Orla Muff’s illustrated postcards can be found at the Danish Postcard Artists site located at: https://www.piaper.dk/postkortkunstnere/Postkortkunstnere/Orla_Muff/Orla_Muff.htm
A collection of fifty-five images of Orla Muff’s music sheet covers is located at the online Illustrated Sheet Music site: https://www.imagesmusicales.be/search/illustrator/Muff/11874/ShowImages/80/Submit/
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Orla Muff”, Date Unknown, Collection of the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen
Second Insert Image: Orla Muff, Music Sheet Cover for “Smaragden”, Composer Einar Cronhammer, 1923
Third Insert Image: Orla Muff, Music Sheet Cover for “Han är Söt och Rar”, Composer Harald Mortensen, 1925
Bottom Insert Image: Orla Muff, Music Sheet Cover for “Femina”, Composer Sven Rüno, 1923