Mia – April 29, 2019
Every so often, I’ll read or see something that makes me yearn for Denmark. That sounds funny, even to me, since I’ve only been to that magical kingdom twice—once when I was a college student studying in Europe and again when John and I spent an enchanted week in Skagen on our honeymoon.
Somehow, those bewitching memories came tumbling out when I read about “The Fairy-Tale Queen” at Amalienborg Museum in Copenhagen. The special exhibit, which runs through May 19, is the work of Queen Margrethe II, whose artwork is on display. The exhibit shows the queen’s costume designs and scenography for productions of fairy tales, including Thumbelina, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Cinderella and The Nutcracker, that were presented at The Royal Theatre and The Pantomime Theatre.
A Fairy-Tale Queen who creates fairy-tale art? What a thrill that would be to see in person—especially at Amalienborg Museum, which is housed in Amalienborg Palace, otherwise known as Christian VII’s palace, the home of the Danish Royal Family.
In my dreams, I am touring the exhibit with my daughter, Astrid, with whom I’ve shared so many fairy tales over the years. She’s nine now and inclined to leave those stories behind in favor of “cooler” pursuits, but there was a time when she asked me to read Thumbelina every night and begged me to outfit her as Cinderella for Halloween.
I couldn’t wait to ask our friend Farfar, who lives at The Danish Home, whether he knew about the multi-talented queen of Denmark. I had to suppress a giggle when he told me that he always thought of Margrethe as a pretty young thing. Her father, Frederik IX, was the Danish sovereign Farfar grew up revering. He had moved to the U.S. by the time Margrethe became queen in 1972. “I remember that she wore a daisy pin on her wedding gown,” Farfar said, surprising me. “Daisy is her nickname, you know.”
As a resident of The Danish Home, Farfar celebrates Queen Margrethe’s April 16 birthday every year with trivia, bingo and a special lunch. But he had never heard of her prodigious artistic talent, so I was happy to share my research with him. I was fascinated to learn that, while still the crown princess, Margrethe had sent J.R.R. Tolkien her own illustrations for his Lord of the Rings book. She used a pseudonym, so Tolkien had no idea the artwork that so charmed him had a royal provenance. The queen’s illustrations were published in a 1977 Danish edition of the Tolkien classic.
Over the years, Margrethe has not only dreamed up costume designs, scenography and illustrations, but has also designed some of her own clothes and created paintings that have been displayed in some of Denmark’s most popular museums. Some of her watercolors appeared last year on postage stamps of Greenland, which is a constituent country of Denmark.
She has said she “always loved the landscape” and is serious enough about her art to clear her schedule every Thursday afternoon in devotion to it. In all this, Margrethe is not just a fairy-tale queen, but a Renaissance monarch who has studied not just art, but also archeology and political science.
When I shared this information with Farfar, he said he wished he had toasted the very accomplished Danish queen on her birthday and would remember to do so next year, when she turns 80.
“In the meantime, maybe the best way to honor Queen Margrethe is to spend time in museums,” he said. “You may not be able to travel to Amalienborg, but we saw last year’s Georg Jensen exhibit at the Art Institute.” That was one of Farfar’s favorite museum field trips organized by The Danish Home, and it was lovely.
I returned home after my visit with Farfar, pulled our book of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales off the shelf and called Astrid to me. “Sweetie, I want to tell you the story of a fairy-tale queen.”