The Museum’s Inception

As early as 1943, Carl-Henning Pedersen believed that the freedom of artists was at risk if they were obliged to paint to fit “the broad taste”. Ideally, society would take over the output of all artists while providing them with a living stipend. He envisioned modern libraries of art where the paintings would provide as much enjoyment to as many people as possible.

International recognition in the 1960s did nothing to change Carl-Henning Pedersen’s resentment against selling his work. In 1965, he rejected selling works to Statens Kunstfond (the Danish national art foundation) and started to ruminate on the idea of a “one-man museum” instead.

The negotiations culminating in the inauguration of the museum in Birk began shortly after an interview in the Berlingske Tidende newspaper’s Easter edition in 1966. Accompanying the interview was a photograph – “The Treasury of Tut Ankh Amon 1966 Edition” – in which Carl-Henning Pedersen was seen surrounded by hundreds of stacked paintings in the attic of the Carlsberg brewery.


“The Treasury of Tut Ankh Amon 1966 Edition.”

Carl-Henning Pedersen’s proposed donation of his entire artistic production from 1936 and onwards – a donation amounting to 20-50 mill. DKK – in exchange for suitable exhibition facilities created a sensation. Carl-Henning Pedersen even offered to supplement the collection with new works every subsequent year.

The proposal was received with interest by the Minister for Culture, who investigated the possibilities for placing an exhibition building in Carl-Henning Pedersen’s hometown of Copenhagen. At the hearing, however, concern was voiced over the potential creation of precedence for one-man museums. The primary concern was that ”bad artists would come running” and make similar demands. But, as art dealer R. Sixtus Thomsen stated in the Politiken newspaper in March 1969, even “… other good artists […] might want to have created for them a monument in the shape of a museum, and then what?”

The museum plans in Copenhagen continued regardless of these concerns, however. Utterslev Mose had potential for a Japanese style art pavilion where Carl-Henning Pedersen’s works could be exhibited in the inner hall. Not alone but with other works of modern art. Other towns also presented opportunities, such as Holbæk and Hjørring as well as Asger Jorn and Jørn Utzon’s new museum in Silkeborg. In Aarhus the famous architect and professor C.F. Møller set his students “a museum for the painter Carl-Henning Pedersen” in a fictitious location south of Aarhus for their graduation project. C.F. Møller, along with his son Mads Møller, was eventually chosen to draw the plans for the museum according to Carl-Henning Pedersen’s specifications.

In Herning, mayor Jens Mathiasen suggested using the old manor house of Herningsholm as a museum. Carl-Henning Pedersen already had a close relation to Herning through shirt factory owner Aage Damgaard who had commissioned him to ornament the wall of the inner Angli Courtyard. Eventually, “the Wall in Herning” was the deciding factor in determining the location for the museum.

After a long and arduous process, the construction of the museum began in Birk on the outskirts of Herning. On 13 September 1976, Carl-Henning Pedersen’s dream was finally realised when the museum opened to the public for the very first time and not only exhibited Carl-Henning Pedersen’s own painting but also those of his late wife Else Alfelt.

”It is the building in Herning that one is most interested to see. The setting or framing of the collections of Carl-Henning Pedersen and Else Alfelt is the novelty, and one knows in advance that it is more than a simple building, an architectural accomplishment, that one is about to behold. It is a building that has become a large, round painting.”
(Pierre Lübecker on the opening in the Politiken newspaper)

Carl-Henning Pedersen made his mark on Herning on several other occasions. In 1993, the round museum building was joined by a mountain peak in the shape of a prism - in the words of the chairman of the Building Committee: “Symbolising Else Alfelt, painter of mountains and light.”  Once again, C.F. Møller Architects ensured the aesthetic and thematic cohesion between the building and the surrounding landscape.

In 2003, the prism was followed by an exclamation point when an obelisk covered in ceramic tiles decorated by Carl-Henning Pedersen was erected in the roundabout neighbouring the museum. Taken together the three shapes – the circle, the triangle and the line – are fantastical manifestations of Carl-Henning Pedersen and Aage Damgaard’s underlying idea of art’s enrichment of the everyday.