Even as an old man, the outdoor man Heerup was full of beans. At the age of eighty, he cycled, as he had done for years, from his home in Vanløse to the garden in Rødovre. Here, at 96 Kamstrupvej, he had his creative oasis where children, artists, members of the royal family, and nosey elves visited him in turn.

The garden in Rødovre was Heerup’s beloved workplace for more than forty years, symbolising a time of fermentation in Danish art where life and art came together in more than one sense. It was a personal and almost magic place, but never shut off to its surroundings. Heerup’s art emerged ’as naturally as when you sow a seed to watch a plant grow,’[1] Ejler Bille once wrote and there can be no doubt that Heerup’s untamed creativity lay in his ability to always find his inspiration close at hand.

Heerup was a vitalist. He never lost his close affinity with the ground, the sky, or the sun. On the contrary, he believed that he owed it to nature to bathe if the weather was suitable or to always sit in a sunny spot.[2] This love of light and life was deftly balanced by his artistic soul. ‘Reality is the father. Fantasy is the mother,’[3] he would say.

Heerup lived a long life in the service of art and, in 1987, his eightieth birthday was celebrated by a torchlight parade from Thorvaldsen’s Museum to Kunstforeningen at Gammel Strand. As far back as 1867, one of Heerup’s great heroes, Hans Christian Andersen, had the same honour bestowed on him. It is not hard to imagine the joy Heerup must have felt by this kinship and people’s tribute.

Just a few years later, he painted his last picture at home and, later still, a few crayon drawings at the rest home where he stayed until his death in 1993. On 5 June, he was buried at the Assistens Cemetery where he, as a small boy, had looked up his idols and spent many an hour. A small, but highly beloved, elf in blue taken from the songbook Fløjte Huggas Billedbog is visible on Heerup’s tombstone. Recorder in hand and wearing his pointed hat, this travelling companion remains a fitting memorial to a unique artist.

“The elf doesn’t merely symbolise Christmas, but a small kind creature in life with whom you can enjoy yourself all year round. Not in bright sunshine, but when it begins to get dark. If you treat it nicely and put out a few paintings for it – then it will come … Storm P. once wrote to me, because I’d said something about him and elves to a newspaper: ’I, too, love the elf. Let’s never forget him.’[4]

The self-appointed chairman of the Elves’ Trade Union in Rødovre and Vanløse understood, if any, the nature of the elf. Its childlike demeanour was deceptive, but the unfathomable age of elves, their life experience and special skills were other aspects of this symbol of imagination and the transition to adult life. As Heerup put it:

Well, my dear elves, trolls, arch angels, and funny animals, etc. … What should we do without you, without imagination? The greatest inspirational source of all.[5]

[1] Christian Gether et al.: Heerup: Faith, Hope and Charity, p. 27

[2] Christian Gether et al.: Heerup: Faith, Hope and Charity, p. 20

[3] Allan Daugaard Hansen: Heerup, p. 93

[4] Virtus Schade: Heerup, p. 14

[5] Henry Heerup: Min Arbejdsbog, p. 11