mm

Philip Sampson

Philip Sampson, født 1959 på Frederiksberg, er uddannet journalist. Han har arbejdet på Politiken, DR og Ritzau. På sidstnævnte virkede han på bureauets udlandsredaktion fra 1988 til 2011. Philip er opvokset i London som søn af en ghanesisk far og en dansk mor. Han har gennem årene beskæftiget sig indgående med racisme og højreekstremisme, bl.a. i samarbejde med antiracistiske organisationer som Expo i Stockholm og Searchlight (i dag Hope not Hate) i London. På baggrund af sin mangeårige tilknytning til den københavnske motorcykelverden, har han gennem årene kunnet levere ganske præcise analyser af konflikterne i bikermiljøerne både i ind- og udland. Philip er i dag selv medlem af Harley-Davidson Club Herlev. Journalistisk set er Philip Sampson graver af natur. Denne interesse bruger han i dag især på historisk research.

Se alle skribentens artikler

Du kan støtte
Philip Sampson
på Mobile Pay: 20 83 90 96

Behind her Mistress’ Chair

On Tuesday, the auction house Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen is putting a painting depicting the black West Indian nanny Justina on the block. This is the first time since Wilhelm Marstrand painted it 160 years ago that it is being offered for sale. POV International’s Philip Sampson has looked into the story of the remarkable painting, the story of Justina and the nannies from the Danish West Indies. An investigation that also uncovered old photographs of these nannies that have never before been published.

The oil painting is exhibited for preview at Bruun Rasmussen’s main office in Copenhagen. Up there on the first floor of the auction house in Bredgade between on the left side a painting by Peder Mønsted and on the right side one by Martinus Rørbye.

When you enter the room, it is the most noticeable of the exhibited works of art. This painting with the black West Indian nanny Justina and the two white girls Emily and Annie Marstrand. Painted in Frederiksberg Garden in Copenhagen in the summer of 1857 by the renowned Danish Golden Age painter Wilhelm Marstrand, an uncle of the two girls.

The new Bruun Rasmussen catalogue

Paintings from the Danish Golden Age depicting black people do excist. Niels Peter Holbech painted a West Indies nanny in Denmark in 1838. As did C. Felsing in 1855. But such paintings are extremely rare. That’s why Justina is also spectacular. So much so, that she here in the centennial for the sale of the Danish West Indies has been made the poster girl of the auction. It is Justina’s face that adorns the cover of Bruun Rasmussen’s thick auction catalog with the 126 paintings and drawings that will auctioned on Tuesday.

The Marstrand painting – catalog number 49 – has the title “Portrait of Otto Marstrands two daughters and their West Indian nanny, Justina, in Frederiksberg Garden”. The times they are a-changin’. Earlier, the painting was called “A Negro Girl with Two Children”.

Anyhow, it is one of the paintings that will attract the most attention at the auction. Bruun Rasmussen has valued the painting at between 600,000 and 800,000 kroner. The highest valuation of a painting at this auction.

It is certainly too is an interesting work of art. With a fascinating story. A story about the Marstrand’s of St. Thomas and their black nannies. A story about the last chapter of an all but extinct branch of the Marstrand family, circumstances that now has led to the sale of this painting that has been in the family’s possession for 160 years.

POV International is able to tell this story – compiled through archival material, art literature and an interview with the woman who now is selling the painting. An elderly woman living in southern Europe who wants to be anonymous. We will call her Anne. Anne Gyllich.

The visit from St. Thomas

Annie Dorothea Marstrand visited Denmark in 1856. She was creole, a woman born and bred out in the West Indies and as such influenced by the customs and behavior, people had there. Customs and behavior that people at the old continent had a habit of looking down on and considered as a bit primitive. She was born on St. Thomas, the daughter of Mr. Nissen, a Danish wine dealer, but had married a Danish immigrant to the West Indies, Otto Jacob Marstrand, in 1845.

The couple had since been blessed with four children. Osvald in 1846, Emily Othilia in 1848, Annie Lætitia in 1850 and little Wilhelm Troels in 1855. And now Mrs Marstrand came to Copenhagen with the children. Their plans were to stay for a couple of years. The children needed a little Danish schooling and education. Mrs. Marstrand needed rest. As her husband Otto had written to one of his brothers, the painter Wilhelm Marstrand: “My Wife is of a rather nervous Disposition and could do with the influence of a colder Climate.”

The creole Annie Dorothea Marstrand and her husband Otto Jacob Marstrand -painted by Wilhelm Marstrand 1856 and pressumably 1857.

Otto Jacob Marstrand was a successful lumber trader on St. Thomas. A consul on the island too. He had his hans full. So Mrs. Marstrand and the children were sent off in advance. That is to say, their son Osvald had been sent to Denmark already in 1855 and was staying with Wilhelm Marstrand and his wife at Charlottenborg – the Art Academy in Copenhagen.

It was very common that slaves in the Danish West Indies, as in in the rest of the Caribbean and North America, had no last name. Slaves were in essence just a piece of property. In the same way as a workhorse was. And as such a first name was sufficient

So in 1856, the creole Annie Dorothea Marstrand arrived in the Danish capital together with her three youngest children – and of course their nanny, their black, West Indian nanny. Her name was Justina.

After the abolition of slavery

We do not know much about Justina. It is unclear where and when she was born. Who her parents were. Not even her last name is known, if she actually had one. It was very common that slaves in the Danish West Indies, as in in the rest of the Caribbean and North America, had no last name. Slaves were in essence just a piece of property. In the same way as a workhorse was. And as such a first name was sufficient.

Admittedly the slaves now were free in the Danish West Indies thanks to their uprising on St. Croix in the summer of 1848. A rebellion that had prompted the immediate release of the slaves on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. Jan – the three islands that formed the Danish West Indies. However, the abolition of slavery had not made a big difference to the living conditions of the black inhabitants of the islands. For the most part they still had to work from early morning to late night in the sugar plantations to earn a living. Their freedom of movement was also very limited.

They could not as such leave the islands freely. Some however managed to get away. Men often by becoming seamen. Women not rarely as nannies for white Danish families who returned home to the old country. But these women were servants, docile minions who obeyed their lords and ladies every call. Justina too.

Mrs. Marstrand, her children and their nanny were put up in Silkegade 45, the Marstrand’s old family house in Copenhagen. Here her brother-in-law Troels Marstrand had his bakery. But he willingly moved out to let his West Indies relatives stay there.

All in all Mrs. Marstrand came to depend a lot on her husband’s three brothers under the visit in Denmark. Wilhelm, the painter; Troels, the baker; and Theodor Christian, who was a tool manufacturer.

T.C. Marstrand’s Tool Factory and home on Amerikavej. (Copenhagen Museum)

Out there on Amerikavej

Theodor Christian lived with his wife Anna and their children on Amerikavej in the Copenhagen suburb of Frederiksberg. Here one found T.C. Marstrand’s Tool Factory and private dwelling. And this was one of the places that was visited by Mrs. Marstrand and her “Negresse”.

We know this thanks to Theodor Christians son Jacob Nicolai Marstrand. The one, who since was to become a member of Copenhagen City Council and Mayor of the 4th Division of the Magistrates.

It is thanks to Jacob Nicolai Marstrand that we today have a Danish Pastry called Mayor’s Delight

He also became a successful baker and it is thanks to Jacob Nicolai Marstrand that we today have a Danish Pastry called Mayor’s Delight.

Jacob was but a a boy of eight years when he first met his West Indian aunt and her black maid. He described it in his memoirs:

“Otto’s wife, Annie, only seldom came to Denmark from St. Thomas. She was a gracious, but sensitive lady, very different from mother in habits and tastes. First time she visited us, she had a beautiful Negresse for her attendance. Lying behind her Mistress’ chair, the Negresse patiently awaited her orders.”

It is a bit difficult to comprehend today. “Lying behind her Mistress’ chair”. It brings to mind a lap dog. There abolition of slavery was certainly not that far back. Mentally, in the minds of many of the white creoles and their freed slaves, this abolition never came.

Justinas world

We do not know how young Justina felt about being in Copenhagen. But it must have been in every sense overwhelming for her to come from St. Thomas, a Caribbean island with about 13,000 residents, to the vibrant Danish capital with a population of ten times that. From a society where the population was one big mix of white, brown and black people, to a ethnically homogeneous European metropolis, where virtually everyone was white. People of African origin were far between. Here one would spot a nanny, there a black sailor on leave, or a colored footman rushing down the street.

As servant for the sensitive and nervously disposed Mrs. Marstrand and her children, Justina had here work cut out. Not least when it came to the youngest of the children, little Wilhelm Troels. That winter he became ill. And on January 30, 1857, the boy died just 14 days before his two-year birthday. The parish register does not disclose the cause of death. Only that Wilhelm Troels Summer Marstrand was buried from Trinitatis Church on 3 February.

Perhaps this the death of his youngest child was a contributing reason to why Otto Jacob Marstrand now broke up from St. Thomas and headed for Denmark. He came to Copenhagen in 1857. And it was here it was decided that Otto’s brother Wilhelm should do a portrait painting of the small West Indies family now gathered in the Danish capital.

Wilhelm Marstrand: “Portrait of Otto Marstrand’s two daughters and their West Indian nanny, Justina, in Frederiksberg Garden”. 1857

“The wise watchful eye”

The painting was by no means a traditional family portrait. As the artist he was, Wilhelm Marstrand decided to “turn things upside down”. Making the biperson the main character. And main characters to bipersons.

He fell for the different, the exotic, the dark Justina. Made her to the all-important central figure of the work of art he painted in the Frederiksberg Garden that summer. While the true protagonists, Otto Jacob Marstrand and his creole wife, were barely noticeable in the background together with their son Osvald

He fell for the different, the exotic, the dark Justina. Made her to the all-important central figure of the work of art he painted in the Frederiksberg Garden that summer. While the true protagonists, Otto Jacob Marstrand and his creole wife, were barely noticeable in the background together with their son Osvald

In the foreground, Justina looks straight at the viewer. “Although the Negresse is slim and slight, she takes up much of the painting, also by reason of her personality, the wise observant look, the hesitant attitude,” the author Otto Marstrand, a grandson of Otto Jacob Marstrand, pointed out in his 2003 book about the painter Wilhelm Marstrand .

She wears white dress, cinnamon shawl and a headdress in yellow, red and green. Madras fabric. A traditional headgear for the West Indian nanny.

Unidentified nanny with Emily Othilia Marstrand’s two oldest daughters, Ada and Annie Gyllich. St. Thomas ca. 1878

The nanny Henriette Adams with Edna Valborg Gyllich on her lap. St. Thomas, ca. 1883

Standing on each side of Justina, the two West Indian Marstrand sisters wear blue-chequered dresses. Emily Othilia on the left; Annie Lætitia on the right.

As Theodor Oppermann, the famous art historian, wrote in his book about Wilhelm Marstrand from 1920:

In the “portrait of the Negresse with the artist’s two nieces, the mental aspect plays a minor role; on the other hand it reflects, better than any other of Marstrand’s works, his ability to master the monumental beauty of pure and simple forms. Right from his heart, he has been delighted with the formality and simplicity of the form, which manifests itself in the young girl’s primitive features, and he has been overwhelmed by the elegant lines of the figure as well as by the neck and the turbans bold interaction. Colouristically he has also been enthusiastic. The darkness of the Negresse, her yellow turban, white dress and red shawl match each other magnificently.”

West Indian nanny Henriette Adams came to Denmark when the Gyllich family moved there. Photo taken in Copenhagen, possibly in the 1880s.

The painting was brought to the Danish West Indies when the Marstrand family returned to Charlotte Amalie, the capital of St. Thomas. Either by Otto Jacob Marstrand, who set course towards the islands already in the summer of 1857. Or with Mrs. Marstrand and the daughters who sailed home in 1858. Ever since the painting has been in the family’s possession.

Granny on St. Thomas Avenue

For Anne Gyllich, the painting of Justina, Emily Othilia and Annie Lætitia has been part of her life as long as she can remember. Anne is the granddaughter of the oldest of the two sisters of the painting, Emily Othilia.

”In my childhood the picture of the Nanny with the two daughters always hung on the wall in Granny’s flat in Copenhagen”, she explains in a conversation with POV International.

Her grandmother was Edna Valborg Gyllich and she lived at St. Thomas Avenue in Frederiksberg. An area that, as the name suggests, had a long history of residents from the West Indies. Anne remembers her from her childhood in the 1950s.

“We did not visit her much there as we lived in Sweden. But it used to be for Easter and sometime in the summer. Thus the picture was not of importance to me or my brother when we were little. We met up with Granny in our summer house in Hornbæk for a month every summer and that is where most of my memories from Granny are”, says Anne.

I don’t remember much of what my grandmother told me about her childhood in the West Indies. I was 13 when she died and of course there are lots of questions one should have asked. I do remember the (even then) to me shocking remark she made about black people – they are ’lazy and stupid’

Edna Valborg Gyllich was a creole. She was the youngest of the five children born to Emily Othilia Marstrand and her husband, bank director and consul Gustav Oscar Gyllich. All born on St. Thomas. Edna in December 1881.

The Marstrand nanny Henriette Adams photographed in New York – probably en route between Danish West Indies and Denmark

”I don’t remember much of what my grandmother told me about her childhood in the West Indies. I was 13 when she died and of course there are lots of questions one should have asked. I do remember the (even then) to me shocking remark she made about black people – they are ’lazy and stupid’!! And that this part of her life affected her all her life”.

”She preferred to talk English. She said it was the civilised language in the world and made me learn English rather early (possibly also because she hated Swedish”.

The family’s other nannies

Actually, Anne’s father, Oscar Otto Gyllich, was to have inherited the painting. But he died when Anne was only three years old. So when Granny died in the 1960s, Anne inherited it.

”The picture came to us in Sweden when Granny died and has since then hung as a centerpiece on the wall in my mother’s living room. Mum always talked about how beautiful the Nanny is”, says Anne.

When Anne Gyllich moved to southern Europe a few years ago, she left the painting with her mother in Sweden. However, she took with her a number of boxes that she had inherited from her grandmother. Boxes of photographs of letters from Edna’s long life. Memories all the back to the Danish West Indies.

West Indian nanny Henriette Jensen with Annes father, Oscar Otto Gyllich, photographed in Copenhagen april 1912

Among these memories is an envelope with photographs of Marstrand’s West Indian nannies. Old photographs showing how the family held on to the tradition of the black nannies. How not only Anne’s great-grandmother grew up with a West Indian nanny. But that her grandmother Edna did too. Annes father, Oscar, too had a black nanny – long after the family had moved to Denmark.

The name of Edna’s nanny was Henriette Adams. The name of Oscar’s was Henriette Jensen. The photographs of them – taken in photo galleries on St. Thomas, in New York and in Copenhagen – are outstanding. According to Anne Gyllich, they have never been published before

The name of Edna’s nanny was Henriette Adams. The name of Oscar’s was Henriette Jensen. The photographs of them – taken in photo galleries on St. Thomas, in New York and in Copenhagen – are outstanding. According to Anne Gyllich, they have never been published before.

“They’ve been on a loft in Sweden for years now, and now with me,” she explains.

Anne Gyllich does not mind making photographs available to POV International. They are an important piece of the puzzle in the history of the islands that Denmark sold to the United States for now 100 years ago. And at the same time shows a part of a family history that ends with Anne.

The end of the road

“When Mum died last year it was time to decide what to do with the painting. Neither I or my brother have children so there is no future generation to hand it over to. If there were it would not have come up for sale now”, Anne explains.

She did not want to bring the historically valuable Marstrand painting to her home in southern Europe. ” It would not be appreciated at it true value here when I eventually pass away”.

Therefore, the painting of Justina and the two Marstrand sisters will be put on auction at Bruun Rasmussen on Tuesday.

“It’s a little sad,” says Anne Gyllich. “But I think it’s the best solution, all in all.”

Ultimately, she hopes the painting ends on Danish hands. “I would love to come and look at it at a museum in Denmark,” she concluded.

Readers with additional information on Justina or the other nannies shown, are welcome to contact til author on pkasampson(at)gmail.com.

Sources:

* Madsen, Karl: “Wilhelm Marstrand. 1810-1873”, Kunstforeningen. København, 1905.

* Marstrand, Troels: “Slægten Marstrand”. København, 1915.

* Oppermann, Theodor: “Wilhelm Marstrand. Hans Kunst i Liv i Billeder og Tekst”. G.E.C. Gads Forlag. København, 1920.

* Marstrand, Jacob: “Tilbageblik gennem et langt Liv”.  Gyldendal. København, 1928.

*Fabritius, Albert: ”Slægterne bag Titan”, København 1957.

* Marstand, Otto: ”Maleren Wilhelm Marstrand”, Thanning & Appel, Kolding, 2003.

* Parish register for Trinitatis sogn, København.

* Censuses for Frederiksberg, 1911, 1930, 1940

* Passenger lists, Dansk Vestindien, USA, Danmark, Tyskland (Ancestry.com)

Photo: Philip Sampson, Bruun Rasmussen, Anne Gyllich (pseudonym), Copenhagen Museum. 

Kategorier