The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Art of Ludvig Sandöe Ipsen



On 27 January 1880, the Apollo Club of Boston, an all-male chorus, performed Mendelssohn’s Oedipus at Colonus at the Boston Music Hall. The program for that concert featured this beautiful design by Danish illustrator Ludvig Sandöe Ipsen (1840-1920). It is one of the 51 black-and-white ink illustrations that make up part of the Apollo Club records, on deposit here at the MHS since 2012.

The Apollo Club was founded in 1871, incorporated in 1873, and is still going strong. In fact, it is Boston’s oldest active male chorus and the second oldest continuously active male singing group in the country. Throughout its long history, the club has performed at many notable occasions, including the funeral of Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner in 1874, the centennial celebration of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1875, and the memorial service for President William McKinley in 1901.

Arthur Reed, the club’s first secretary, commissioned Ludvig S. Ipsen to design covers and page details for concert programs and publications. Ipsen was quite a “get” for the Apollo Club. After training as an architect in Copenhagen (not to mention serving in the Danish Army engineer corps during the Second Schleswig-Holstein War), he had immigrated to the United States in 1867 and soon made a name for himself in Boston as a designer of book covers, book plates, posters, etc. His illustrations appeared in volumes by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, but arguably his most important and best-known work was the illustrated edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese published in 1886.

Ipsen designed 130 program covers for the Apollo Club over 23 years. His illustrations include historical and mythological figures, as well as musical instruments and notes, trees and flowers, cherubs, birds, ribbons, seascapes, etc., all carefully composed and depicted in amazing detail.


Ipsen also designed the Apollo Club seal, still used by the organization today.

Many memorials of Ipsen and reviews of his illustrations note that he worked at a time when advances in printing technology made the reproduction of images faster and cheaper, and original hand-drawn artwork for mass-produced books was in decline. But Ipsen found a receptive audience in the Apollo Club, and the result is a beautiful and skillful synthesis of music and art.

permalink | Published: Wednesday, 17 September, 2014, 1:00 AM


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