Villa Hélène houses one of the most interesting museums in Rome from an LGBTQ+ perspective. It is dedicated to the renowned gay artist Hendrik Christian Andersen. Andersen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1872, and emigrated with his family to the United States a year later. After spending his formative years in New England, he travelled throughout Europe and eventually fell in love with Italy and all things Italian. He moved in Rome in 1896, where he remained a productive artist and influential figure until his death in 1940.
Andersen had a complex life, bridging the romantic era and modern times. He was an accomplished painter and sculptor and had a lifelong obsession with architecture and urbanism. The latter provide inspiration for the construction of massive sculptures representing themes of love, maternity, and physical strength, all created to decorate the public buildings of the new “World City”, where only beauty and idealism could help human beings to live their lives in peace. Many of these works feature homoerotic themes, and all display passion and energy to the visitor.
The collected works include over two hundred sculptures of large, medium and small dimensions in plaster and bronze, over two hundred paintings, and over three hundred graphic works. All this art is on display, along with his extensive urban plans, and some of Andersen’s personal items. Perhaps most interesting to many visitors is his passionate correspondence with the American writer Henry James. The collection of 77 letters document the love story of two men separated by a great physical distance, yet in an intensely emotional relationship. Although James was 30 years his senior, Andersen clearly cherished the 16-year relationship which lasted until James’ death in 1915.
Andersen personally designed and supervised the construction of the elegant Villa Hélène, which was completed in 1925. The building itself is an excellent example of early 20th century Roman elegance with many neoclassical archetypes, and gives the visitor a true sense of stepping back into another time. The building and the entire collection of artwork and documents was donated to the Italian government by Andersen’s estate, and finally became a museum to house his work in 1999. When in Rome, visit to Villa Hélène is an absolute must!
More info on special Untold History Tours of this museum.