Behind Colonial Mirrors
When the Danish West Indies was sold to the United States in 1917, the Government Houses on the islands had to be emptied. A precious furniture collection bought by the former Governor, Peter von Scholten, was shipped back to Denmark.
Christiansborg Palace turned into Caribbean Government House
The items of furniture play the leading role in the exhibition, Behind Colonial Mirrors. We have recreated Peter von Scholten’s ballroom in the Danish West Indies in the royal apartments, together with much of his furniture.
Having made their way up the Queen’s Staircase, visitors will enter Peter von Scholten’s Government House, as it would have looked in 1833.
Palm leaves will be strewn on the staircase, so visitors will not traipse the West Indian sand and dust into the sumptuous chambers. The air will be infused with the scent of honeysuckle at twilight, and the melody of the latest court dance piano arrangement will echo through the ballroom.
The West Indian furniture provides us with a glimpse of the flip side of the colonial era
Peter von Scholten made several shopping visits to Europe to decorate his rooms. They must also have been a magnificent sight to behold on St Thomas and St Croix. But only for a while, because they were eaten away from inside.
Termites overran the furniture, so it was returned to Europe to be copied. Most of the furniture travelled four times back and forth between Europe and the Danish West Indies.
Finally, the Caribbean culture got the better of the Danes. The furniture crumbled and the enslaved Africans rebelled. After Denmark’s 200 years as a colonial power, the Governor was forced to defy the King and give in to their demands for freedom. He signed a declaration to end slavery in 1848.
By 1917, the stormy West Indian chapter of Denmark’s history had come to a close. The furniture was shipped across the Atlantic to Denmark for the very last time. Several of the items ended up in the apartments at Christiansborg Palace.
Dates and venue
From 16 September to 17 December you can see your reflection in the Governor’s mirrors, when you visit the exhibition in the royal apartments of Christiansborg Palace.
Peter Von Scholten in brief
Born 1784. Died 1854. Sent to the Danish West Indies from 1814 to 1848, where he ended his career as Governor General.
Based in his Governor’s residence, he developed a luxurious household, very much inspired by the court of the King of Denmark. Peter von Scholten was a controversial figure, who ran up debts on several occasions in order to surround himself with pomp and magnificence.
There was a lot of gossip about the Governor and his headstrong ideas. He was especially notorious for inviting people of colour to the balls in the Government Houses.