Religious art? Do we dare? Niels Helledie does

Danish sculptor Niels Helledie (b. 1927) is in demand at auction. His ceramic sculptures often surpass their estimates. Really quite strange, considering his art is heavily religious and packed with religious symbols – something that doesn’t usually sit so comfortably with us in our day and age.

Apart from Russian icons – classic and perennially popular collectors’ objects – we’re not really crazy about having religious-themed art on the walls above our sofas. So what’s the great attraction with Niels Helledie?

Niels Helledie is self-taught and draws his inspiration from medieval symbolism. His sculptures, reliefs, crucifixes and other creations have a particularly rustic crudeness about them. Which today actually comes over as a bit retro, and is maybe precisely why his work has experienced a renaissance in recent years? He mainly works in ceramic, but also used driftwood and bronze.

Many Danish churches have the pleasure of housing art by Niels Helledie – including Holte Church, Hasseris Church in Aalborg, Hasle Church in Aarhus and the exceptionally beautiful Ellevang Church, also in Aarhus and designed by leading Danish architects Friis & Moltke. Niels Helledie’s crucifix particularly comes in to its own here, against the setting of Friis & Moltke’s stark, brutalist architecture. The completely naked rooms with Helledie’s crucifix together with the altar, font and pulpit by Erik Heide, another Danish sculptor, as the only focal points are an amazing sight.

Painters from the Danish island of Funen – artists like Johannes Larsen, Frits Syberg, Peter Hansen – are also among those working with religion as a motif in the 20th century. And here we see a definite difference when it comes to hammer price. The religious subjects achieve distinctly lower hammer prices than the lovely, soft, Funen landscapes, ploughed fields, hothouse flowers, children and all the other popular subjects these artists painted. We seem to shrink away from religious gravity.

The same is true with older paintings, with the exception of art that it is so old that it comes from a time when almost all motifs were religious. Naturally enough there are no such differences to discern here!

Niels Helledie’s sculptures only rarely turn up at auction at, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for when they do. Take a look here and see whether we’ve any at auction right now. Or you could set up a search agent for “Niels Helledie” here, and automatically receive an email when anything by Niels Helledie is consigned.

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