The Gefion Fountain

Monday 9 July 2018

Simon Frost takes a look at this grandiose Danish fountain

The Danish sculptor Anders Bundgaard was inspired by Nordic mythology when he created this bold, powerful bronze for the Gefion Fountain of Copenhagen in 1908.

The legend goes that the Swedish king Gylfe was seduced by the goddess Gefion, so offered her as much of Sweden as she could plough in one day and one night. By her divinity, Gefion transformed her four sons into mighty oxen to pull her plough; when her time was up, Gefion and her oxen sons had ploughed so deep into the ground, she could lift the land up and drop it into the sea, and into Danish waters, between Sweden and Denmark's Funen Island, creating Zealand Island – on which Copenhagen is situated – and leaving Sweden with Lake Vanern in its place.

It's easy to see how the myth came about just by comparing the size and shape of Lake Vanern and Zealand Island on a map – perhaps an excuse for the Danes to take a swipe at their Scandinavian neighbours. However, the original myth goes that it was Lake Malaren that Gefion took the land from, so at least one of those stories has to be wrong! In any case, it's a wonderful tale to inspire a bombastic work of public art. Gefion's robust, commanding pose identifies her as the embodiment of formidable, godly femininity.

The sense of movement is masterfully conveyed by the oxen's varying positions in a tangle of exertion, coupled with Gefion's windswept robe and expertly animated whip, which curls behind her back as it swings for surely the 1,000th time. The spray from the fountain adds to the agonising drama of the piece, equally evoking the sea spewing from the earth and the sweat and steam cascading from the oxen in their titanic effort.

Copenhagen's largest bronze monument, the Gefion Fountain stands just a few hundred feet from The Little Mermaid, perhaps the city's most famous resident, which was unveiled five years later. However, recent testament from visitors to The Little Mermaid suggest that they are often equally or more impressed by the Gefion Fountain than its better-known neighbour. The fountain was opened in celebration of the Carlsberg Brewery's 50th anniversary. These days, it seems Carlsberg doesn't do fountains; but if they did…