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Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen (1909‑1957)

Surrealist composition

To be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 9 – 12 November 2021

Lot 109 Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen (Denmark/Sweden 1909‑1957). Surrealist composition. Signed with monogram and dated v.b.-p. -34 lower right. Oil on canvas, 100 x 75 cm.


300.000 – 400.000 SEK
€ 30.000 – 40.000


Bukowskis, Stockholm, 12‑15 May 1987, cat. no. 43.
The collection of Janina (1944‑2019) and Alter Saks (1932‑2021), Stockholm.


Charlottenborg and Kunsthallen, Copenhagen, ”Liniens”, January 1934.
Silkeborg Kunstmuseum, ”Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen: En retrospektiv udstilling”, 1986, cat. no. 30.
Sophienholm, ”Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen: En retrospektiv udstilling”, 14 June-24 August 1986, cat. no. 30.
Fyns kunstmuseum, ”Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen: En retrospektiv udstilling”, 1986, cat. no. 30.
Esbjerg kunstforenings samling, Kunstpavillonen,”Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen: En retrospektiv udstilling”, 1986, cat. no. 30.


Alex Steen, H.P. Jensen and Bent Irve, Dansk kunst 86, 1986, illustrated and mentioned p. 224.
Stig Brögger, Troels Andersen, Jörgen Broch, V. Bjerke Petersen – En retrospektiv udstilling, exhibition catalogue, Silkeborg Kunstmuseum/Sophienholm/Fyns Kunstmuseum/Esbjergs Kunstforening, 1986, illustrated p. 52.

In context

At the peak of Surrealism with Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen

The Danish modernist painter, theorist, ceramicist and designer Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen (1909-1957) has during the latest decade achieved a renewed appreciation as one of the most important artists in the modern Danish era. During the 1930s, at the height of his career, Bjerke-Petersen contributed to the Surrealist movement when he arranged and participated at several important exhibitions that today are regarded as milestones in art history. As a true visionary he was ahead of his time, being a catalyst for a groundbreaking new genre. 

Bjerke-Petersen was the son of art historian and critic Carl V. Petersen, director of the Hirschsprunhske Collection. The father encouraged his free spirit and thinking and supported him to leave Denmark for further studies abroad in other European countries. He first went to Oslo, thereafter to Paris but eventually continued to the radical new Bauhaus School in Dessau. As the only ever Danish student at Bauhaus, he studied for artists Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee for a year between 1930-31, a time that would be of the highest importance for his future development as a painter where he awoke a fascination for the expressive potential of purely abstract forms. When he later returned and settled in Copenhagen, the young Bjerke-Petersen was soon to become an important person on the Danish art scene, being a talented and creative painter who made things happen. At a time when many of the most radical artists put their artistic theories into words, so did Bjerke-Petersen. Strongly influenced by his teachers Kandinsky and Klee, he published his first book Symboler i abstrakt kunst (Symbols in the abstract art) in 1933.

At the beginning of 1934 Bjerke-Petersen founded, together with his artist friends Ejler Bille and Richard Mortensen, the first Danish Surrealist-oriented avant-garde association Linien. Their first magazine acted partly a political art journal, partly an exhibition catalogue for their debut exhibition that opened on January 17th in Charlottenborg. A total of 167 works were shown, greeted with harsh criticism, nevertheless visited by a large and somewhat enthusiastic group of visitors during the weeks of the exhibition. The present painting was one of the exhibited works included in this ground-breaking exhibition. Bjerke-Petersen was at the time highly involved in the international tendencies, soon befriending many of the European artists of the avant-garde. In 1935 he arranged a remarkable exhibition, an event that would put Copenhagen on the map within modern art. He gathered the most prominent international Surrealist-oriented artists in the revolutionary exhibition Cubisme = Surrealism at Den Frie Udstillingsbygning in Copenhagen. Together with André Breton, Max Ernst and Jean Arp, Bjerke-Petersen managed artist like Meret Oppenheim, René Magritte and Salvador Dalí to contribute to what was to become one of the most important Surrealist exhibitions ever held. 

The strong and beautiful surrealist composition by Bjerke-Petersen included in this sale is signed and dated v. b.-p. -34, dating it to the important period when the artist was at the peak of his Surrealist career. Against a background divided in two parts in blue and black the central motif shows an abstract combination of diverse shapes and symbols in different pure colour planes. In his own very characteristic style he makes a synthesis between the abstract forms and the imaginative surrealist world. In October 1934 Bjerke-Petersen published the controversial and theoretical book Surrealismen, in which he acclaimed that:

“Surrealism strives for a mode and form of expression that can be used by and appeal to as many people as possible, it uses psychic automatism. Surrealism wishes to strip humanity of any notion of artist and talent by increasingly suppressing conscious intellectualism in the creative work. Thus, the new world of images, which sets free restrained and restricted impulses and forces, could become the natural form of expression of every human being, presupposing only an absolute capacity for experience based on devotion and belief: art is dead – life is strengthened”.  

During the following years Bjerke-Petersen continued his Surrealist success, he was one of the participating artists in the now famous exhibition “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism”, arranged at The Modern Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1936-1937 by its first director Alfred Barr. Later on in his life Bjerke-Petersen became associated with the Swedish Halmstad Group when he moved to Sweden during World War II and was also active as a ceramist and a designer at Rörstrands Porslinsfabrik.

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