The Sculptural Works of Hendrik Christian Andersen
Born in Bergen in April of 1872, Hendrik Christian Andersen was a Norwegian-American sculptor, painter and urban planner. The younger brother of painter Andreas Martin Andersen, he moved in 1873 as an infant with his family to Newport, Rhode Island. As a young man, Andersen worked as a sculptor and served as an art instructor to prominent social figure Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who was a sculptor and both patron and collector of the arts.
In 1893, Hendrik Andersen traveled to Europe to study art. In Paris, he met his older brother Andreas and student painter John Briggs Potter. The three of them traveled for a year through Europe and resided in Florence for some time at the end of their tour. In 1894 at their Florence residence, Andreas Andersen painted a portrait scene of both Hendrik and John Potter rising from sleep, entitled “Hendrik Andersen and John Briggs Potter in Florence”
Now settled in Rome in 1899, Hendrik Andersen met the American expatriate writer, Henry James, who is regarded as a prominent transitional figure between literary realism and literary modernism. Although James was thirty years older, the two men developed a close relationship and maintained correspondence for fifteen years. James, enamored with the sculptor, become one of his first patrons by buying Andersen’s painted terracotta bust of the twelve-year old Count Alberto Bevilacqua who regularly visited every Saturday at Andersen’s studio.
Henry James’s letters to Andersen, seventy-seven of which are in the University of Virginia’s library, show a high level of affection and sensual love for Anderson. James’s letter of condolence for the death of Andreas Andersen in 1902 expresses his grief as well as his love: “to put my arm round you and make you lean on me as a brother and a lover, and keep you on and on. . .”. However, as Andersen’s replies are not available, their actual relationship can not be definitely determined.
After Andreas Andersen’s death, his widow Olivia Cushing traveled to Rome to stay at Hendrik Andersen’s residence for discussions on the commemoration of Andreas’s life and work. Hendrik’s conception for a sculpted funeral monument grew into an idea for a Palace of Arts, and then further progressed into a plan for a World City full of sculptures, museums, and galleries. In 1813, Andersen published his “A World Centre of Communication”, a tome about social and spiritual renewal through the arts, with an emphasis on sculpture.
This tome alienated James who felt that Andersen was pursuing a megalomaniacal version of society at a time when Italy was under the rise of Fascism. By 1915, they both had ceased correspondence. Before his death, Henry James burned many of his papers, including pieces of correspondence. After James’s death, Andersen approached the James estate in 1930 for permission to publish the letters he had received: however, permission was refused. These letters were not available publicly until 2000.
Olivia Cushing Andersen came from a wealthy family with residences in both Newport, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts. In her own right, she was cultured and had amassed an extensive collection of art and rare books. Upon her death in Rome in December of 1917, she left a large sum of money to Hendrik Andersen. He used this inheritance to build a villa as part of his World City idea. Between 1922 and 1925, Villa Helene was built to Andersen’s design with an immense carving studio in the nearby Piazza del Popolo.
Henrik Andersen worked in this studio until his death in December of 1940. Over his lifetime, he executed more than four hundred pieces of both plaster models and stone or bronze sculpture, many of which were monumental figurative works of larger than life size. Upon his death, Andersen bequeathed all of his work to the Italian State, only stipulating that Villa Helene be made available to his model and adopted sister, Lucie, until her death.
Upon Lucia’s death in 1979, the villa became state property and is now the Hendrik Christian Andersen Museum, located on Via Pasquale Stanislao Mancini in Rome. The museum houses all the papers and collected works of Hendrik Christian Andersen, which include sketches, models in plaster and bronze, as well as paintings by his brother Andreas and other contemporary artists of that time.
Notes: A collection of letters from Henry James to Hendrik Andersen can be found in Rosella Mamoli Zorzi’s “Henry James: Beloved Boy: Letters to Hendrik C. Andersen”. The book is available through many vendors.
A collection of six letters from Henry James to Hendrik Andersen, along with a short description of Henry James’s life, can be found at Rictor Norton’s Gay History and Literature site. There is however an error in the description of the Andreas Andersen’s painting; the seated figure is not Andreas Andersen but John Briggs Potter. The letters can be found at: https://rictornorton.co.uk/jameshen.htm
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Hendrik Christian Andersen”
Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “James Henry and Hendrik Andersen”, 1907
Third and Fourth Insert Images: Sculptures by Hendrik Christian Andersen, Museo Hendrik Christian Andersen