C.C.A. Christensen: Mormon Artist
Carl Christian Anton Christensen was a Danish-born American artist best known for his series of 23 large paintings that chronicled the history of the migration of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Utah, of which he was a member.
The Mormon Panorama is 175-foot canvas scroll comprising the 23 paintings. He lectured on Church history while he toured Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming with the Panorama beginning in 1878, traveling during the winter when he was not working on his farm. Decades later, the scroll was rediscovered and cut apart for easier display, but one of the paintings—The First Vision—was lost.
Christensen was born on November 28, 1831 in Copenhagen, Denmark, and there studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In his art education, he was taught to capture Danish life; a skill he later used to capture the lives of members of the Church of Jesus Christ. He joined the Church of Jesus Christ in September 1850 and served as a full-time Missionary to Denmark and Norway. While serving in Norway, he met and taught artist Danquart Weggeland. The two later collaborated on several religious works.
In 1857, Christensen sailed to Utah, traveling first to Liverpool, England, where he married Elsie Scheel Haarby, whom he met in Norway. They then sailed to New York and took a train to Iowa City, Iowa. They completed their trip by handcart. After arriving in Utah, Christensen took odd jobs to support himself and his wife. He was a housepainter, laying brick, burning charcoal, and farming. He later taught drawing and Danish at the Sanpete Stake Academy (now Snow College). In 1862, he did stage painting for a theater in Springville, Utah.
He and Weggeland accepted a commission from Dimick B. Huntington to do a collection of paintings from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. He painted some of the murals in the Manti Utah Temple and the St. George Utah Temple. He did paintings of Manti and its surroundings, including the Manti Tabernacle.
Christensen also wrote Danish hymns and poetry. He contributed to Bikuben and later served as the publication’s editor. He coauthored the History of the Scandinavian Mission. He also worked in the Church Historian’s Office where he compiled records on the history of the Church in Scandinavia. He died on July 3, 1912.
Posthumously, Christensen’s work was lampooned in a 2012 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, in which appeared a one-sided article about the finances of the Church of Jesus Christ. Editors selected Christensen’s engraving of John the Baptist as the front cover and in-house artists colored and cartooned it. The editors changed the online cover after receiving much criticism for the mockery of Christensen’s art and the unfairness of the article.