Circleen and her mother Hanne Hastrup

Exhibition at The Vejen Art Museum

From Friday 3rd May to Sunday 17th November 2019

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    1. Circleen on the drawing board, part of an original illustration for the first Circleen book from 1969. More examples in the exhibition.

A little elf was created on the drawing board of a young student at The School of Drawing and Decorative Art for Women at the end of the 1950s. We know her today as Hanne Hastrup. The little elf’s O-shaped head first gave her the name Oline. But an O is also a circle and before long, she came to be called Circleen. Several generations have made her acquaintance in films and books, but the development of Circleen through sketches and preparatory drawings has not been shown until now, together with a wide range of the artist’s other artworks.

The Vejen Art Museum put on the first ever exhibition of the works of Ingrid Vang Nyman (1916-1959), creator of Pippi Longstocking, way back in the year 2000. Since then we have wanted to follow on with an exhibition of the universe of Hanne Hastrup, with particular focus on Circleen. Now we have made it, and it can be seen that the two artists had much in common, not least their early lives. Ingrid Vang Nyman lost her father at the age of six and was sent to a sanatorium in Italy, while Hanne Hastrup lost her mother at the age of five and was later sent to a boarding school. Both had to curtail their artistic studies for practical reasons. Despite all this, they have both left their mark on the world of children’s books for generations.

thumbnail_Image-26  thumbnail_Image-25  thumbnail_Image-27Hanne Hastrup sees with a child’s eye that Circleen’s ladder can be made of matchsticks from the matchbox that was her bed. The three steps show Circleen at the foot of the ladder, then at the top, and finally up and swinging in the plant pot. All three are exhibited.

Circleen’s mother’s maiden name was Hanne Schultz (born in 1940). Her teenage dream was to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Art and become an artist. She was living with her grandmother in Lyngby then. A well-stocked library provided her with books on Impressionism, and she took drawing lessons at evening school, led by Christian Tom-Petersen (1899-1992). He recommended that she applied to The School of Drawing and Decorative Art for Women on H. C. Andersen’s Boulevard in the heart of Copenhagen, where she could train the necessary techniques to gain her admission to the Academy of Art. But in the meantime something quite different occurred.

She found a group of kindred spirits at the School. They received life classes and drawing exercises at The National Museum, among other institutions. They made animal studies at the Zoo, which Hanne Hastrup frequented, as the students had free entry here. At that time she met a young man whom she invited home to tea. But when Grandmother slammed the door and forbade access to the girl’s room, Hanne Schultz moved out there and then and settled in with the young man: Jannik Hastrup, later expert in the world of animation films. Hanne Schultz became Hanne Hastrup.

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Hanne Hastrup’s first sketches in creating the figure of Circleen were done when she was at school at the end of the 1950s. The many preserved sketches are exhibited here for the first time.

The young couple moved into a very modest basement room at Birkholmsvej in Lyngby. They were very poor, and Hanne Hastrup remembers that they lived on boiled rice and carrots. She also had to leave the school, as there was no money for the train fare.

Their first daughter came to the world in October 1960. In an interview in the national newspaper Politiken (29. 2. 2013), she recalls the event: ‘I was 19 when I had my first child. She was born at home, because when I rang the midwife and told her that the labour pains had started, she thought I was overly nervous and said there was plenty of time. The child was born, and we rang her up again. “The child is born now. What do we do?”’

They had very little room, so they moved north to a home in the country in Karlebo. A second daughter was born here, and Jannik Hastrup’s career with animation films took off, with his wife as an essential member of the artistic team.

Circleen takes the stage
With the enormous popularity of cartoon films for children, Jannik Hastrup encouraged Hanne in the middle of the 1960s to take Circleen out of the drawer, refine her a little, and make her into a film star. The two first short films were made on a shoe-string budget in 1967: ‘Circleen Visits the Wood Elves’ and ‘Circleen and Frederick Babysit’. Six more films followed in 1968. There was a pause in production until 1970, when the last six short films were made.


By now Jannik and Hanne had broken up, and Circleen began to run into political storms. The start of it was a controversy around the evil cat, which could not be called Franco (a perfectly common name in Southern Europe), but instead was christened Mogens. This was the name of the legendary head of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s unit for young people. Later on, the twelfth film ‘The Flight from America’ became vey contentious because of references to black panthers. It was never shown on television, and only later became available on DVD.

The third Circleen film ‘Oh, What a Lovely Birthday!’ was the Danish Broadcasting Corporation’s first colour production of a children’s programme – everything hitherto being produced in black and white. Jannik Hastrup had predicted this development and had suggested right from the start that Circleen should be drawn in colour. Hanne Hastrup produced the texts and drawings, and Jannik made the films. Han also coordinated the voices and the music, which was provided by Hans Henrik Ley with classics such as ‘Bim-bam-busse’ (‘Mile, Male, Mole’).

Stop Motion films
The production method of the films was simple, but at the same time very demanding on Hanne Hastrup, who had to produce Circleen faces with a whole arsenal of different expressions, as well as arms, legs and bodies for different scenes. This was true of all the figures in a film. A selection of them are on show in Vejen. In time there was a good stock of backgrounds and parts, just as in a theatre. They still had to be renewed quite often, which was a physical challenge in comparison with for example digital productions. In the same interview in Politiken in 2013, Jannik Hastrup explained the difference. “In the beginning, we had these cut-out cardboard figures under the cameras, and moved them with our fingers. In the course of a day, our fingers got dirty and stained the figures, so new ones had to be drawn. That took time. You would think that new techniques would speed up the process, but this is not the case: instead you sit there fiddling about with tiny things that you would not previously have dreamt of, simply because it is now possible.”

Each individual component of the film was moved, shot by shot, and filmed. Children these days can easily experiment with stop motion, as they have excellent cameras in their cell phones and free apps to help them. The technique has many fans and a certain charm, when you think of the relaxed and uncomplicated sequences of these films. They are especially a hit with the youngest children; everyone can follow them.

Circleen’s Universe
The main character in both the books and the films is Circleen, a good elf, and she is soon accompanied by the two mice, Frederick and Ingolf. Frederick is the typical big brother who decides everything, Ingolf the underplayed and sometimes cowed younger brother. But he is often the one who finds a short cut and wins in the end. Hanne Hastrup relates that she often read these psychological dynamics in the relationship between her own elder daughters. The figures of the mice were provided by real life in the house in Karlebo; no one had the heart to use mousetraps or lay poison, so the small creatures became very bold and trooped across the living room floor, each with its own personality.

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Jannik and Hanne Hastrup lived at Birkholmsvej in Lyngby in 1959. Here she made the pen and ink drawing and the sketch coloured in crayon. Both are on show.

There are several more elements from Hanne Hastrup’s everyday experiences. There are two chipmunks – Circleen’s take on Tintin’s Dupont and Dupont – who derive from the relationship she observed between her own father and his twin brother. For example their way of being able to finish the other’s sentences, like many people who know each other intimately. Hanne recalls that they actually thought it was quite an honour to be part of Circleen’s universe!

Hanne Hastrup continued to work for television throughout the 1970s. She produced illustrations for the children and young people’s unit of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation to accompany readings of small everyday tales by Ulla Raben and Bendt Kjærgaard, among others. She was herself the focus of television programmes in 1992-1994 about a mouse called Musibal. The first episodes were shot at the painter Oluf Høst’s atelier at ‘Bognemark’, his farm on Bornholm, for local television. Transmissions were thereafter sent nationwide on TV 2. Hanne Hastrup told stories using a mouselike figure, a creation somewhere between other Danish classics like Ingrid and her puppet ‘Lillebror’ or the productions of children’s artist Jørgen Clevin. Hanne Hastrup scripted all sorts of activities, like making kites, dependent on wind, weather and the time of the year.

There was a definite Circleen revival around the millennium. Hanne Hastrup has created new books at various intervals. Looking back over more than 60 years with Circleen, she can see that her public has changed over the years. These days it is mostly the youngest children who read and watch Circleen. In recent decades, the books have been accompanied by a number of cinema films produced by Jannik Hastrup.

This friendly little elf in the red dress with black dots has been part of the common universe of generations of Danes. She is a national mascot who, just like her mother, loves showing children the best in life: being good to each other and to nature.


Translation: Jeremy Watts