Queer Places:
Forstadsmuseet, Alarmpladsen 3, 2650 Hvidovre, Denmark

Jens Georg Hjalmar Sørensen (April 16, 1881 - April 2, 1943) was a sailor. Carl Hansen Fahlberg was a Danish author and police officer. In 1897– 1903 he lived together with Hjalmar Sørensen. Carl Albert Hansen was one of the Great Morality Scandal’s best known victims. While Hansen was arrested, tried and imprisoned, not least perhaps because he was a member of the city police, Sørensen was not. He was, however, interviewed many times, as were some members of his family. The interviews reveal a collision of two very different conceptions of homosexual desire. The chief concern of the police was the morphology of the acts undertaken by Hansen and Sørensen: did they only engage in mutual masturbation or were they guilty of the ‘crime against nature’? There is a legal reason for this definition of homosexual activity through forms of bodily coupling: two distinct crimes existed, the crime against nature (§177) or the lesser charge of gross indecency (§185). Nonetheless, the records show a strangely prurient line of questioning, which went beyond the nature of the sexual act, and probed for detail: were Hansen and Sørensen lying down or standing up; how exactly did their bodies interact?

There is cache of letters taken from Hansen’s home, which includes correspondence between Albert and Hjalmar. What is striking is that the letters reveal love; the homosexuality of the scandal, marked by degeneracy, exploitation, and prostitution, is displaced in these documents by affection and domestic life: I long so deeply to press your soft mouth to mine and spend a happy evening with you write as soon as you can [...] with many friendly greetings from your own little [lille] Hjalmar. The use of the word ‘lille’ is not insignificant. The word means ‘little’, but as saying ‘dear little Albert’ and ‘from your little Hjalmar’ would suggest in English, this is a sentimental attachment. Similarly, Hjalmar signed a Christmas card to Albert in 1897 ‘From your faithful Hjalmar’ followed by the wish that they might love each other for many years to come. One can see where the police agent has underlined such incriminating details. The line made by the detective’s pencil is evidence of a different kind, of the official insistence on an impermeable boundary between homosexual degeneracy and heteronormative love. The archival documents reveal a fascinating story of cruising, love, sex, and attempted suicide. 

Sørensen took the job as model for Kristian Zahrtmann in 1910-11. He was the model for Alcibiades. Zahrtmann described as an ‘excellent model’, posed for Zahrtmann in Copenhagen and then travelled to Italy with him in 1911, first to Pisa and thence to Civita d’Antico where Zahrtmann summered with friends and pupils. Zahrtmann taught him the fundamentals of painting, and later in 1911 the two travelled together to Italy. The year 1911 was the last time Zahrtmann visited Civita d'Antino. It was customary for his pupils to paint a decorative coat of arms in Zahrtmann's bedroom in Casa Cerroni, and by 1911 the total had reached 88, including his own.

Kristian Zahrtmann's bedroom in Civita d'Antino, by Hjalmar Sørensen, 1911

Kristian Zahrtmann: Socrates and Alcibiades, 1911. Oil on canvas, 36.8 x 37 cm. SMK – National Gallery of Denmark, inv. no. KMS8219.

Hjalmar Sørensen: Ceiling of the Officers’ Pavilion, Hvidovre, date unknown (c. 1920s?). Forstadsmuseet, Hvidovre. Photo: © Forstadsmuseet.

Sørensen wished to become a painter and in return for modelling had painting lessons from Zahrtmann. He modelled not only for Alcibiades, but also the Mandolin Player and Henry V in the painting of Henry V and his Sister (of which biographist Danneskjold-Samsøe comments ‘the woman is of no interest to Zahrtmann, while the portrait of Sørensen is warm and alive’). While Zahrtmann believed at first that Sørensen had the making of a painter, his experience in Italy changed his mind and Zahrtmann curtailed his tuition. Nevertheless, Sørensen went on to build a modest career as a painter, exhibiting regularly at the Kunstnernes Efterårsudstilling from 1914 and at the annual spring exhibition at Charlottenborg from 1919. He also had his own exhibition of paintings and studies at the art dealer Anton Hansen’s in 1919. Most famously, he painted the ceiling of the Officers’ Pavilion at the barracks in Hvidovre, south of Copenhagen . The ceiling demonstrates the impact of Zahrtmann, in the use of Homeric motifs, the colour, and the shaping of the male nude. Moreover, it also includes a version of Prometheus and the Eagle, which is clearly modelled on Zahrtmann’s painting of the subject.  

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