The Abyssinian – a crowning in Scandinavian modern sculpture

Johannes C. Bjerg received his training in 1907 as woodcarver but was
soon diverting his energies to modelling and carving in stone. He debuted
in 1909 with a portrait-bust of his father at The Royal Danish Academy
of Fine Arts, Charlottenborg in Copenhagen.
He had by 1911 secured a three-year legate to study in Paris, where he soon became acquainted
with the cubist group Section d’Or. Moving into the Bateau-Lavoir, a favorite
rendezvous at Montmartre, Bjerg linked up with some of the era’s most
progressive artists – Archipenko, Gris and Braque, as well as the lesser-known
Spanish sculptor, Auguste Agero. Agero’s influence on Bjerg was
profound. He not only instructed the young sculptor in the technical
aspects of casting and working in alloy, but likewise introduced him to a
novel array of models and motifs – in Agero’s studio, “modern” sculpture
stood side-by-side with African objets d’art.

It was during croquis lessons in Paris, that Johannes Bjerg first encountered
the young African who would ultimately pose for The Abyssinian. Bjerg’s
enthusiasm for this model was shared by many of his contemporaries, and
the slim, elongated figure can be detected in the works of such sculptors
as the Russian-born Alexander Archipenko, the German Georg Kolbe, and
Bjerg’s compatriot, Svend Rathsack. In her essay from 125 years of Danish
Sculpture, Hanne Abildgaard explains this fascination for the African figure.
African sculpture in particular, she writes, is recognized for a “certain inspirational
quality relating to the accumulative essence and natural, decorative attitude (of the figure)”.

The Abyssinian was first exhibited in Copenhagen in 1915 at The Artists’
Autumn Exhibition and was received with general enthusiasm.“There
is inherent in this bronze body something of the force and frailty of the
coiled steel spring,” notes one contemporary critic, Svend Goldschmidt,
who concludes with diagnostic scrutiny, “which does convey a severity of
attitude, an artistic mastery and even a spirituality of perception seldom
seen in the sculpture of our day.”

The Abyssinian not only represents the inaugural success of a very talented
artist, but with its distinctive fluidity of movement, salient, simplified
features, and stylized tufted hair, Bjerg’s bronze stands likewise for an era.
The Abyssinian is a crowning achievement. Unfettered by the encumbrance
of traditional or dogmatic classicism, it is one of the great works in
Scandinavian modern sculpture known today.

The artists personal copy of the statue is now to be seen in "Storstrøm Kunstmusæum" , Maribo