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 Holger Henrik Herholdt Drachmann  (1846 - 1908)



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Lived/Active: Denmark/Europe      Known for: coastal scene, marine and figure painting, writing

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Ad Code: 3
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
View of Skagen where the Skagerak and the Kattegat meet on the top of Jutland (Grenen)
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Holger Henrik Herholdt Drachmann (9 October 1846 - 14 January 1908), was a Danish poet and dramatist. He is an outstanding figure of the Modern Break-Through, the naturalist late 19th century art and literature movement in Denmark.  Although he did some painting, his primary reputation is for his writing; he became one of the most popular poets in his native country.

The son of physician A. G. Drachmann, whose father belonged to the German speaking congregation at St. Peter's Church, he was born in Copenhagen. Owing to the early death of his mother, the child was left much to his own devices and developed a fondness for semi-poetical performances, organizing his companions in heroic games, in which he himself took such parts as those of Peder Tordenskjold and Niels Juel.

Holger was sent to Bornholm to learn to paint. Here he met his first wife Vilhelmine Erichsen whom he married in 1871 in Gentofte. They had one daughter, Eva, and in 1874 his marriage ended. Then for a period of time, he had a series of changing relationships and domestic arrangements with women, first involving himself with a married woman named Polly. She became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, and shortly after broke contact with him. Then he met with a young girl in Hamburg by the name of Emmy. They fell in love, married, adopted the daughter he had had with Polly, and had four more children of their own. In 1887 she became seriously ill, and one of their daughters died in the same year. Perhaps due to the stress he fled into a relation with Amanda Nielsen, (he called her Edith), who became his biggest muse. He would have many muses in his life, but on his deathbed he said that his two biggest muses were his first wife, Vilhelmine, and Edith.

His personal appearance often almost overshadowed his literary merits and in many ways he played the role of the "typical" bohemian poet with a turbulent private life. His relationship with various women (his "muses") often made a great scandal but it was the fuel of his inspiration. Especially "Edith", a cabaret singer who was his mistress during the 1890s and inspired much of his best love poetry. His often rhetorical approach to poetry and occasional "wordiness" has led some critics to compare him with Swinburne.

Behind in his studies, he did not enter university until 1865, leaving it in 1866 to become a student at the Denmark Academy of Fine Arts*. From 1866 to 1870 he learned, under Professor Sørensen, to become a marine painter, with some success. In about 1870 he came under the influence of Georg Brandes, and, without abandoning art, began to devote most of his time more to literature. At various periods he traveled very extensively in England, Scotland, France, Spain and Italy, and his literary career began by his sending letters about his journeys to the Danish newspapers.

After returning home, he settled for some time on the island of Bornholm, painting seascapes. He now issued his earliest volume of poems, Digte (1872), and joined the group of young Radical writers who followed Brandes.  Drachmann was unsettled, and still doubted whether his real strength lay in the pencil or in the pen. By this time he had enjoyed a surprising experience of life, especially among sailors, fishermen, students and artists, and the issues of the Franco-German War and the Paris Commune had persuaded him that a new and glorious era was at hand.

His volume of lyrics, Dæmpede Melodier (Muffled Melodies, 1875), proved that Drachmann was a poet with a real vocation, and he began to produce books in prose and verse with great rapidity. Ungt Blod (Young Blood, 1876) contained three realistic stories of contemporary life. But he returned to his true field in his magnificent Sange ved Havet; Venezia (Songs of the Sea; Venice, 1877), and won the passionate admiration of his countrymen by his prose work, with interludes in verse, called Derovre fra grænsen (Over the Frontier there, 1877), a series of impressions made on Drachmann by a visit to the scenes of the war with Germany.

During the succeeding years he visited most of the principal countries of the world, but particularly familiarizing himself, by protracted voyages, with the sea and with the life of man in maritime places. In 1879 he published Ranker og Roser (Tendrils and Roses), amatory lyrics of a very high order of melody, in which he showed a great advance in technical art. To the same period belongs Paa sømands tro og love (On the Faith and Honor of a Sailor, 1878), a volume of short stories in prose.

Holger Drachmann died in Copenhagen and is buried in the sand dunes at Grenen, near Skagen.


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