The Man Who Shocked His Entire Family

Hudtwalcker Shield

Although Heinrich Carl Hudtwalcker was a successful businessman, his true passion was the paintings of Edvard Munch.

Four generations can be a heavy burden on a young man’s shoulders but Heinrich Carl Hudtwalcker (1880 – 1952) had to carry that weight. He lost his parents before he turned 11 years old and his only choice was to turn to the traditions of his ancestors in the world trade of Whale Oil. Thus he became the 5th generation businessman not by desire, but by misfortune and a sense of  family duty. Whale Oil, and various Fish Oils were the fundaments of the financial success of the house of Hudtwalcker. One of the elder, Jacob Hinrich Hudtwalcker (1710 – 1781), on 18th April 1743 in Hammerbrook laid the foundation stone of the business.

In 1905, Heinrich Carl Hudtwalcker established a branch of the Fish Oil factory at Oslofjord, outside Oslo, the capital of Norway, and soon engaged in a flourishing trade with one of the most well know whale catchers1 of the time. But it wasn’t just Whale Oil why Norway became the country of his destiny. In one of Oslo’s galleries he was introduced to the works of the then still almost unknown Edvard Munch, a demonic artist who shook Hudtwalcker’s bourgeois world to the core. From then on, Munch and Fish Oil were to be the two roadsigns in his life. He also got to know his wife in Oslo,2 a daughter of a priest, who had grown up in the polar loneliness of Narvik. When Hudtwalcker returned to Hamburg after his 8 year long stay in Norway, he had in his travel luggage a respectable portfolio of works by Munch. From a coincidential meeting with the painter, a friendship gradually grew which delighted Hudtwalcker. Earning his money from the Fish Oil trade, collecting works by Munch enriched his spiritual life.

In his house in Elbschausse 472 he shielded his art treasures from the public eyes. As Hudtwalcker was a man who did not talk much about himself or ever threw exciting parties, his sons, Carl Heinrich and Olaf – one of them manager of the Oslofjord factory, the other a gallery owner in Barcelona3 – described their father as a closed, taciturn man of Hanseatic restraint. It was his greatest evening pleasure to scroll through the folders of Munch graphics, or to linger mutely before the paintings of the great Norwegian hanging on the walls, listening to the silence within. Everything the artist said by the use of colours about the human condition, Hudtwalcker discovered in himself, but this was something he could not express in words.

When Hudtwalcker bought ”The Sin” by Munch, a naked girl with flowing red hair and green eyes, the Hudtwalcker Family was so indignant, that they quarreled with Heínrich.

In Hamburg today there are still many reminders of the Hudtwalckers, although their presence has somewhat diminished and few people still recall them.4 There is the Hudtwalckerstrasse (Hudtwalcker Street) with its bustling activity, the Hudtwalcker Railway Station, where above the red wooden doors, a stonemason in 1905 chiselled the honorable name, a beautiful Art-Deco work, though the craftsman forgot the C, which the family nonchalantly accepted. And then there is also the Hudtwalckertwiete with the eleven clinker houses which, with their homely comfort, reminds one of Haarlem in The Netherlands.

The most beautiful of these is the Hudtwalckertwiete when in spring the Japanese Cherries standing on both sides of the Gasse Spalier bloom. Heinrich Carl Hudtwalcker loved these trees (of which there were originally a minimum twelve), and would have liked them to have been painted by his friend Munch. However, Munch, as far as we know, never experienced those few days of pink blossom glory. Instead he sat his host and sponsor down for a wonderful portrait during one of his visits to Hamburg. In 1925 he painted ”Portrait of Heinrich Carl Hudtwalcker” which, together with other selected works from the former collection of the businessman, can be admired in the Kunsthallenshow ”Picasso, Beckmann, Nolde und die Moderne”.

On the ground floor of the Museum in the department Malerie in Hamburg (Painting in Hamburg) there is a painting of a young woman with awake, blue eyes and a restrained smile under a sun yellow straw hat: That is Heinrich’s great-grandmother Elisabeth (1752 – 1804), wife of the merchant and Senator Johann Michael Hudtwalcker (1747 – 1818) and niece of Friedrich Klopstock. Jean-Laurent Mosnier, who had escaped from France before the revolution and sought sanctuary in the Hanseatic town, painted her in 1798. Madame Hudtwalcker, one of the most beautiful and educated women in Hamburg in the 18th century, loved the arts and supported it to the best of her abilities. Among the guests in her salon was the Goethe-painter Tischbein, the copper cutter Chodowiecki and the sculptor Dominique Rachette. It seems as though there has always been a hint of the artistic muse in the merchant family.

It was probably nothing more than good humoured fun when the Hanseatic business world stubbornly claimed that in the veins of the Hudtwalckers, blood did not run, but Fish Oil.

Doris Blum

Die Welt, 18.April 2001

Translation by The Raw Herring Agency. An Hudtwalcker-Kennerley Association.


  1. Lars Christensen, 1884-1965
  2. Sigrid Holm, 1879 – 1928. Heinrich and Sigrid did not meet in Oslo, but at a ball in Hamburg.

    Tysfjorden (Norwegian) or Divtasvuodna (Lule Sami) is a municipality in Nordland county, Norway. It is part of the traditional district of Ofoten. The municipality of Tysfjord was established on 1 January 1869. Initially, the population was 1,402. The municipality is named after Tysfiord, the fiord (second deepest in Norway) that the municipality surrounds.

    Tysfjord is known for its whale watching. The midnight sun can be seen from the end of May to mid-July. The sun is below the horizon from the beginning of December to mid-January, and the aurora borealis is commonly seen in winter and late autumn.

    Tysfjorden, Norway
    Tysfjorden, Norway

  3. The Galerie Olaf Hudtwalcker was in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, not in Barcelona.
  4. By the mere numbers of family members, Lima, Peru, is the new capital of the Hudtwalckers of the Third Branch; and The Peruvian Branch, followed by Barcelona, Spain, and a small congreation courageously clinging on to existence in the afore mentioned conditions of the polar loneliness of Norway: 2017