A discovery in the Art World Gustav Holmbom

I prefer my art realistic and the subjects recognizable. I prefer that when I look at a thing I gain pleasure from it.. if I wish to feel pain, i might lift weights, dig a trench or pour concrete, and there is enough sorrow in the world already. What I didn't expect is that I would be out there having to correct experts in the art world. It so happens I am related to a few artists. One Gustav Holmbom has become a mystery man of the art world. He is not famous - yet- but it seems he was relatively prolific over 20 years at the end of the Danish Golden age to 1903.

Stephen Ongpin Fine Art has a this
(Copenhagen(?), 1859 - Copenhagen(?), 1946)
"Very little is known of the Danish landscape artist Gustav Holmbom (or Holmboe), who painted mainly landscapes in and around Copenhagen and elsewhere in Denmark. Among his subjects were views at Amager Island in the Øresund, the sound between Denmark and Sweden, as well as landscapes at Lyngby lake and the forest park of Dyrehaven, north of Copenhagen and along the Suså river, southwest of the city, as well as at Vejle Fjord on the Jutland peninsula."

The mistake about 'Holmboe' is not limited to Ongpin, but Holmbom is of Swedish origin whereas Holmboe is a Danish family and they are not related and not to be confused. Let us unravel this art world's mystery man Gustav Holmbom - as his work more often that not been given wrongly to Gerhard Heilmann (1859-1946), a man of some fame!

I was researching my relative when it came up on art sites he was born 1859 and died 1946. An investigation of the records, now free on-line, showed he was born in Roskilde town 28 March 1851 and christened in Roskilde Cathedral. A key breakthrough that explained the mystery and confusion was an article by Per Steenholdt. It seemed not to have made itself known in the art world - though - possibly as it was written in Danish.. Steenholdt wrote on 05.12.2017 for Paperboy Roskilde (following a google translation edited by myself),

"Today, probably in some Danish homes, scenic landscapes paintings with signatures GH & a year date are hanging. It may be like a fjord landscape, where you can imagine Roskilde Cathedral in the background, or a motif from the zoo or other named sites. One can't go now to find the place the painter stood - it's only the mood that's correct. The motifs are either the cathedral's silhouette or a red gate, known from Dyrehaven. It is not known how many paintings the painter has painted, but today they are not discarded. Should you inherit such a painting and do not want it yourself, it has such value that it is sold through auction houses by online auctions. One can therefore see on the web that the painter is Gustav Holmbom and he is informed that he was born 1859 and died in 1946. When, despite his name being still known, he claims that he disappeared, it is because Holmbom was neither born in 1859 nor died in 1946. The paintings are still found, but the painter, Gustav Holmbom, is forgotten and disappeared. I would like to bid a bit.

Gustav Adolf Bilberg Holmbom 1851-1903
> By searching in various church books and censuses, you can find a lot of factual information. According to the church book, Gustav was born in Roskilde on May 28, 1851, as the son of painter Jens Peter Holmbom, a master painter in Roskilde. Looking at the census from 1870, the family Holmbom lives on the corner of Olsgade and Provstevænget in a property the family owns for several generations. Gustav is like two other of his brothers painters. Here Gustav disappears from the census in Roskilde. He does not do it now alone. Caretaker Wagner's young daughter from Blågårdstræde disappears. They can be found in Guldbergsgade in Copenhagen in a census from 1895. It is apparent that they are married and have lived in Copenhagen since 1872. Gustav is registered as an artist and lives with a daughter born in 1874 , and nurtures himself as a music teacher. Gustav Holmbom died in 1903. Being a painter in Roskilde as his father did not fit Gustav. How well his life has been, we do not know. But in the church book of Capernaum Sogn (Copenhagen note) he was registered as a painter at his death on October 24, 1903.

GH 1859-1946 Gerhard Heilmann
Looking at the Weibach Artist Artikon, which is almost a Bible, is Gustav Holm mentioned. Bornholms Kunstmuseum has got a painting in connection with a will. The painter is described as unknown. However, there is much mention of Gerhard Heilmann, who was born in 1859 and dies in 1946. Heilmann was both known and recognized. Among other things, he was given the task of drawing the first known "Plowman" who adorned the Danish banknotes from 1910 to 1964.

For a historian it seems strange that the two art painters are confused only because their signature is GH. It is very easy to distinguish their signatures, especially since Gustav Holmbom, in contrast to Gerhard Heilmann, dates his paintings. However, the confusion between the two painters is far worse than just the wrong year. Looking at what Heilmann paintings are sold through reputable auction houses, there are unfortunately too many examples of paintings, where the signature can easily be recognized as Gustav Holmbom. Not only has Gustav Holmbom and his origins disappeared, some of his paintings are sold as if they were painted by another."

In the link Per Steenholdt gives an example of Gustav Holmboms work: "Roskilde Fjord med Domkirken i baggrunden". Signeret GH og dateret 1899.

Holmbom painting is sold as Gerhard Heilmann

Christie's is an example where a Holmbom painting is sold as Gerhard Heilmann....


Lot 334
Gerhard Heilmann (Danish, 1859-1946)
Two storks by a lake on a summer's day

Price realised
GBP 750
GBP 800 - GBP 1,200

Gerhard Heilmann (Danish, 1859-1946)
Two storks by a lake on a summer's day
signed with monogram and dated '1888' (lower right)
oil on board
26 x 35¾ in. (66 x 91.4 cm.)

Except the painting looks nothing like Gerhard Heilmann's famous illustration work and is dated about the initials as Gustav Holmbom was wont to do...

What is curious is how people fail to evaluate information.

Hess Fine Auctions a dealer on Live Auctioneers, has a painting dated as Holmbom would. and they write

Hess Fine Auctions is pleased to offer this gorgeous scenic lake view farm landscape with a figure on a gated winding path by listed artist Gerhard Heilman.
Heilmann, Gerhard, 1859–1946 (In 1942 he changed the spelling of his name to "Heilman", however the older spelling predominates): Danish artist and paleontologist who created artistic depictions of Archeopteryx, Proavis and other early bird relatives apart from writing The Origin of Birds, a pioneering and influential account of bird evolution. Heilmann lacked a formal training in science although he studied medicine briefly before shifting to art. His ideas on bird evolution were first written in Danish in the Dansk Ornitologisk Tidsskrift.
In 1883 Heilmann quit his medicine studies and became an apprentice painter of Franz Schwartz and later P S Krøyer. He joined Royal Copenhagen porcelain works in 1890 and worked there until 1902. He then worked as a free-lance artist, illustrating books. Some of his key works included illustrations in Schiøler's Danmarks Fugle (birds of Denmark), Jægeren in Naturen (1925) (Hunter in Nature), Danmarks Sangfugle 1926 (Denmark's songbirds), and a three-volume Danmarks Fugleliv (1926–1930). An ardent birdwatcher himself, he was one of the first members of the Danish Ornithological Society started in 1906. He designed the front cover of the society's journal. Some Danish banknotes were designed by him.
Circa Date: 19th century - 1886
Oil on canvas frame site measures approximately 17" high x 24 1/4" wide within ebonized and gilt frame approximately 24 1/4" high x 31 3/4" wide x 2 3/8" deep.
Signed and dated lower right 18 G.H. 86

Do you notice that the painting is dated 1886? Do you notice that in 1886 Heilmann was only 3 years an apprentice to another artist? Where would he have time to go off and do this as his own work in 1886? The biography shows Heilmann didn't emerge until 1902! Then when he does it is as an illustrator, not a landscape artist. Heilmann was an interesting character coming from a medical and science background, he "was considered a quarrelsome personality". The soft calm landscapes of Holmbom are so different and could not have come from such a character- Heilmann's work is detailed, scientific strong and clear edged, Holmbom's just slightly misty.

Some detail about Gustav Adolph Bilberg Holmbom

Gustav Adolph Bilberg Holmbom was born in Roskilde 28th May 1851 the 2nd son to Roskilde Malermester Jens Peter Holmbom and Karen Sophie Schiellerup a descendant of the Reformation Bishop of Bergen Jens Schjellerup (- d.1582). Gustav was christened in Roskilde Cathedral. Gustav followed his father in Roskilde and learnt the painting trade until 1872. Two other Holmbom brothers followed their father to be Malermesters in Roskilde. The next sibling to Gustav, Ludvig Niels Holmbom born Feb 12 1853 also became a Landskabsmaler, landscape painter. Another brother William Christian Holmbom became a watchmaker in Soho, London, then in Pennsylvania USA.

Holmbom is a rare surname in Denmark with all of that surname being descended from the Weaver Jens Holmbom (c1737-1784) thought to be the son of the Swedish Pastor Petrus Holmbom. The story goes that the Holmbom father was a young Pastor making a trip to Northern Sweden to translate the psalm book into the "Samish" language when he seduced a maiden. She went after him, but couldn't find him. There is therefore only one possible Gustav Holmbom.

He is named after Gustav Bilberg who was married in 1846 to Caroline Vilhelmine Hamann (b.1813) a close relative. They had no children. Caroline seems to have been well off and helped the careers of her relative's children.

When Gustav was confirmed in Roskilde in 1856 he is living with his parents in Olsgade. In the census from 1870 the family Holmbom lives on the corner of Olsgade and Provstevænget in a property the family has lived in for two generations. Gustav is at that time a painter, like two other of his brothers.

Gustav appears to have had little formal training, but rather transitioned from painting and decorating walls to canvas and board. He married Sophie Philippa Henriette Wagner and had one daughter Emma Fritse Sofie in 1874. When his daughter Emma is born 2nd December 1874 and Christened at Skt Johannes Kirke Copenhagen, he is listed as "maler" (painter).

In the 1880 census he is married living with his wife Sophie and daughter Emma in Fiskergade (now Aaboulevard), Copenhagen and his occupation 'malersvend'. In 1885 Gustav was married and working as a Malersvend in Kongens Lyngby, where his father was born, living at Sofievej 25. By 1890 Gustav has transitioned and his occupation is a landscabsmaler (landscape painter) and he is living on Mariendalsvej in Copenhagen. By 1901 he had moved his family to Guldbergsgade, København and was a ‘Kunstmaler’ or artist.

Gustav dies on the 24th October 1903. The Kapernaum Parish record states he was a Kunstmaler (Artist) his last residence possibly is Frimestervej 14/3 Copenhagen. He is buried in the West church yard, Copenhagen. His widow Sofie Philippa Henriette Holmbom in 1930 was living in Blomsgade, København.

Gustav is 2nd cousin to the artist Julie Caroline Hamann (1841-1916).

Why it matters
Gerhard Heilmann was a man of note, a modern man who made his strong presence felt in intellectual circles. He did much more than illustrate and paint as his 'art' was also polemic, so he had not so great a physical output in terms of paintings when compared to his quasi-scientific work, for which he is well known. Gustav Holmbom left rather the prolific legacy from the mid 1880s to 1900 of a man who had no voice, but who went outdoors painting nostalgic quiet places as an argument for retaining the old order on the eve of the modern industrial era. Heilmann's work is definite, strong, detailed and hard edged with little sense of distance, whereas Holmbom's work is soft, reflective, still and nostalgic often featuring incidental labourers, with sense of far distance, as if seeking to look back in time. In summary it might rather mar Heilmann's legacy to be found painting the habitat of bambi...