A visit to the manor Krabbesholm in the town of Skive in north-west Denmark around 1850 would, in all probability, have led to a chance encounter with Mrs Christiane Dalsgaard wearing her finest silk brocade bonnet with blue broché floral vines. The very same bonnet has now been given new life in Trine Søndergaard’s work series ’Hovedtøj’, in which life, past and present, in the Skive area comes together and becomes intertwined.
Trine Søndergaard and the exploration of identity and women’s lives
Trine Søndergaard (b.1972) works with art photography as her mode of expression, a characteristic stillness pervading the serene portraits of women, their faces covered or their gaze averted. Her works manifest the imperceptible or that which elects to remain obscure. Women’s history is a focal point, particularly as it emerges linked to garments embodying both a cultural and personal expression. This examination of women’s lives and regional costumes is also evident in the artist’s earlier works such as ’Strude’ (2007–2010) where women of all ages wear the traditional costume from the island of Fanø, concealing large parts of the face to protect against wind and weather, the series ’Guldnakke’ (2012–2013) based on characteristic nineteenth-century headdress with intricate gold embroidery popular among well-to-do women, and the series ’Dress of Mourning’ (2016), featuring women covering their faces with black mourning garb.
Contemporary debate on national sentiment, Danish national identity, and attitudes to headdress resonate in these subdued visual encounters emerging across time, history, and identity in Trine Søndergaard’s works.
Hovedtøj – historical headdress from Skive
In the work series ’Hovedtøj’, one can experience some of the beautiful nineteenth-century hats, bonnets, veils, and hair jewellery from the Skive area. Headdress was an important identity marker for contemporary women, since it differentiated between single or married, young or old, rich or poor, and regional origin.
The different types of headdress from the Skive area photographed for this work series are all hand-sewn. The materials for the hats were bought from a shop, from itinerant pedlars, or they were alterations of other items of clothing. Several bonnets, for example, were made from silk ribbons stitched together. Silk ribbons were expensive and very select and they were put aside, reused, and saved. The ribbons were used to decorate women’s costumes and placed where they could be seen to indicate social status. Most silk ribbons were produced in France, Switzerland, and Germany. A special feature of the hats from the island of Fur near Skive is the green colour and the characteristic arched shape of the sewed-on bows.
This work series also features a different kind of embellishment, namely hair jewellery made of human hair and a significant item of mid-nineteenth-century fashion. Hair jewellery gained popularity partly because the peasantry could not afford jewellery made from precious metals. This jewellery also had a secondary function as remembrance jewellery, containing hair from a specific person.
Trine Søndergaard has photographed the historical headdress from Skive using young models from the local area. The models were photographed in their own favourite clothes wearing the historical headdress, lending the works a touch of identity and personality while also creating a conspicuous tension between new and old, past and present.
By using her photographs to facilitate the meeting of past and present, Trine Søndergaard creates a kind of condensed accumulation of time. At a first glance, the photographs give the impression of presenting a historical picture, but one very quickly discovers the minute discrepancies of time and visual clashes, such as the models’ own personal modern jewellery or small labels surreptitiously showing on the clothes. Such contemporary elements point to the time the photographs were shot, thus bridging past and present in a single picture frame through the historical costumes. As a medium, the photograph plays a vital role in linking to the present and when contemplating the work series ’Hovedtøj’, the photograph also becomes a distinct marker of the times in which the works were created. Seen with contemporary eyes, the individual time-related elements in the works are identifiable; the clothes label, for example, clearly refers to the present and is at variance with nineteenth-century headdress. In time, this difference will be harder to date. In the series ’Hovedtøj’, Mrs Christiane Dalsgaard’s silk brocade hat mentioned earlier has thus been choreographed with a modern lace top from 2019. Contemporary eyes are able to distinguish the lace and the conspicuous zip from the historical bonnet. But will that necessarily be the case in a hundred years? In time, the works will be subject to a historical blind spot identical to the one in paintings created by Mrs Christiane Dalsgaard’s son, the artist Christen Dalsgaard (1824–1907).
Christen Dalsgaard was fascinated by regional dress from the period 1800–1850, amassing his own collection over the years. He dressed his models in traditional costume for his epic genre paintings. However, the costumes were often several decades old when Dalsgaard used them for his paintings and were, in other words, old-fashioned. Today, a close study of the history of fashion would be required in order to identify the date of the separate elements of the painted costumes and thus convincingly distinguish them from the date of the painting. This kind of anachronism is similar to the one experienced in Trine Søndergaard’s photographs where different ages meet and the dynamism between past and present plays a significant role. Nonetheless, the present will, at some time, become the past, thereby adding a fresh layer of time to Trine Søndergaard’s photographic works.
cand.mag. in art history
Exhibition curator // ”Trine Søndergaard. From where we stand”
The work series ’Hovedtøj’ was created for the exhibition ’Trine Søndergaard. Herfra hvor vi står’ (Trine Søndergaard. From Where We Stand) showing at Skive Museum during the period 28 September 2019–1 March 2020. The exhibition is part of the project ’Herfra hvor vi står – 7 udstillinger om national identitet’ (From Where We Stand – Seven Exhibitions about National Identity), a collaborative project between seven art museums: Randers Kunstmuseum, Horsens Kunstmuseum, Skovgaardmuseet, Holstebro Kunstmuseum, Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, the Museum of Religious Art, Lemvig, and Skive Museum.
Thanks to a generous donation from the New Carlsberg Foundation, the work series ’Hovedtøj’ is now part of Museum Salling’s art collection in 2019.