Portrait of the artist’s wife, from Denmark

“Elsebeth with Bobbed Hair 1932” is a meeting of East and West

Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Thorsheim “Elsebeth with Bobbed Hair 1932,” by David Ject-Key.

Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Thorsheim
“Elsebeth with Bobbed Hair 1932,” by David Ject-Key.

Special to the Weekly
New York

Christie’s, the famous art firm, is offering a fine oil painting for sale that the owner purchased from Denmark, years ago. It will be available until Christmas 2014. The portrait shows a beautifully painted head of a young woman with blond hair, rosy cheeks, and a demure turn of her head.

Norwegian-American Mary Jo Thorsheim readily recognized the quality of the painting when she acquired it, but she knew nothing about the artist or his subject. It is signed David Ject-Key and dated 1932. Research has revealed that the portrait is of Ject-Key’s young wife.

American/Chinese artist David Ject-Key “Wu Jequ” was born in Hong Kong in 1890 and died in New York in 1968. Some time after immigrating to America, he met his Danish-born wife “Elsebeth” (“Else”) when she was in New York with the Danish ballet. They married and settled in New York where Else also became known as an artist. Active on the local art and theater scene, it is interesting to note that they lived there when New York was a thriving center for Scandinavian artists and the Society of Scandinavian-American Artists in Brooklyn was achieving recognition. Although it is not known how extensive the contact of the Ject-Keys was with the Scandinavian community of artists, they would have had the opportunity to interact with them.

Ject-Key’s paintings have received increased interest on the art market recently. He primarily painted landscapes and figures; we know of only this portrait. Acquainted with Norman Rockwell, Ject-Key shows the influence of Rockwell’s realistic style in his portrait of Elsebeth 1932.

In addition to the date recorded on the painting, the period of the 1930s is documented by the bobbed hair of Else and the original art-deco frame. “Bobbing,” or cutting long hair short, was often thought of as an expression of the newly independent woman of the time. The portrait has been known as “Elsebeth with Bobbed Hair 1932” (as well as “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife”).

Else’s interest in promoting the work of women artists may be the background of the annual award that is named for David and Else that is still presented today by the National Association of Women Artists. The organization, founded in 1889, is the oldest professional women’s fine arts organization in the United States.

For more information, contact Tianyue Jiang at Christie’s, Rockefeller Center, at (212) 468-7133.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 5, 2014, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.