Finding Karen Holten in the Grainger Museum

A recent project to translate the Danish-language letters from Karen Holten to Percy Grainger by intern Regitze Phil, has prompted the search for other signs of Karen within the collections held by the Grainger Museum. Karen was a Danish-born pianist who was Grainger’s lover for eight years during the time he lived in London. They were to remain friends until Karen's death in 1953.

One of the highlights found during the search was a Danish national costume worn by Karen in the first decade of the 20th century. The costume consists of a skirt, bodice and apron, made from printed cotton, and is well worn and much loved. The extensive hand-stitched repairs on the waistcoat are testament to a practice of ‘Make Do & Mend’, common in Karen’s era.

Thanks to Percy's archival zeal, we are fortunate to often have multiple forms of documentary evidence for the objects in the Museum's collection. Thus, as well as having Karen's entire costume, the Museum also holds photographs that depict Karen actually wearing these clothes on multiple occasions. An image of Percy and Karen in Denmark in the summer of 1909, whereby Karen is wearing the skirt, bodice and possibly the apron of the outfit shown here, can be found on the Museum's website.

An article by Regitze Phil on Karen Holten will be published later in the December 2019 issue of University of Melbourne Collections. You can read about Regitze's internship at the Grainger Museum in the March issue of Grainger Museum e-News.

Traditional Danish outfit belonging to Karen Holten, Grainger Museum Collection, University of Melbourne

Image: Traditional Danish outfit belonging to Karen Holten, Grainger Museum Collection, University of Melbourne