Willumsen’s art collection consists of around 2,000 items, purchased by the artist and later registered and incorporated in his plans for a museum to house the collection.
The first item listed in Willumsen’s inventory of the collection is a crucifix purchased in 1889 from a priest in Granada. It reveals that when Willumsen travelled to Southern Europe as a young artist, parallel to his focus on the latest Modernist trends, he was also interested in the past. In his memoirs he writes that immediately after arriving in Paris in 1889 he visited the Musée du Louvre to view its historical works. Willumsen also turned to the art of Antiquity. He was especially fond of visiting the Louvre’s galleries of Egyptian and Assyrian art, which he appreciated for its “simple, decorative style.”
During the same period, Willumsen’s own style shifted away from the naturalistic, and works by the artist from the 1890s reveal the influence of his studies of Antiquity as well as leading figures of modern art, particularly Odilon Redon and Paul Gauguin.
Started The Old Collection in 1889
Willumsen met Gauguin in Paris and Brittany in 1890-91 and the two artists exchanged letters and works. Willumsen’s collection includes several works by Gauguin: Five drawings, a copy of the print Soyez symboliste, and the wooden sculpture La Luxure. This sculpture he swapped with Gauguin for one of his own paintings.
In 1889 Willumsen visited Museo del Prado in Madrid where he saw El Greco’s (1541-1614) art for the first time. El Greco was only just being rediscovered, and had yet to become the cult figure among young artists he would start to be around a decade later. In Willumsen’s retrospective account, this first encounter with El Greco’s works was crucial. It led to the discovery of an artistic and mental affinity between him and the long-dead master.
Willumsen’s acquisition in 1911 of an early work by El Greco, The Adoration of the Shepherds (ca. 1568–69), was the catalyst for the increasing momentum of his art purchases.