Rosing, Jens

Writer, visual artist, reindeer herder, director and museum curator born in Jakobshavn (today’s Ilulissat, Greenland) in 1925 - died in Humlebæk (Denmark) in 2008.

Jens Rosing, also known as Jens Christian Rosing, was born in 1925 in Jakobshavn (today’s Ilulissat), Greenland). Jens Rosing was the son of the writer and painter Otto Pavia Jørgen Rosing and Sara Gertrud Vilhelmine Birgitte Siegstad. With his parents and his brother Emil Rosing, he spent part of his childhood in the region of Ammassalik in eastern Greenland, where his father and his uncle Peter Rosing, following in the footsteps of their father, Christian Rosing - a missionary at the beginning of the 20th century and the author of Tunuamiut (1906), a book about the East Greenlanders - both held the position of pastor. Jens Rosing attended secondary school in Denmark, graduating in 1944. Between 1944 and 1946, he worked for the Kongelige Grønlandske Handel, a Danish state company which administered the Danish monopoly on Greenlandic trade. From 1947 to 1948, he attended the Akademiet for Fri og Merkantil Kunst, a training school for designers and illustrators for the applied arts sector. From 1948 to 1950, he studied painting at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts (Kongelige Danske Kunstakademiet), where he was taught by, among others, the Danish painter Kristen "Kraesten" Iversen (1886-1955).

In the 1950s, Jens Rosing distanced himself from his artistic training and developed skills for a traditional Sámi practice: reindeer husbandry. In 1950, he settled in Hallingdal, a valley located in Eastern Norway, then, in 1951, he spent some time with various Sámi communities in Finnish and Swedish Lapland, learning the rudiments of this practice. In 1952, he returned to Greenland and introduced several hundred reindeers– Finnmárkku fylka in the Saami language – from Norwegian Finnmark. A forerunner in this area in Greenland, he managed a reindeer farm in the area of Godthåbsfjorden (now Nuup Kangerlua, Gilbert Sound or Baal's River), a fjord in south-west Greenland, from 1952 to 1959. In 1952, when he settled in Greenland, Jens Rosing married a Danish woman, Dagny Nielsen. Together they had four children: three boys - including Minik Rosing, a geologist, born in 1957 and now living in Concord (Massachusetts, USA) - and one girl – Ina Rosing, an artist born in 1965.

In 1959, Jens Rosing returned to Denmark to devote himself to his art as well as to give an education to his children. Yet, he retained a strong connection to Greenland: on three occasions, in 1960, 1961 and 1963, he participated in expeditions organised by the National Museum (Nationalmuseet) of Copenhagen to west and east Greenland. A few years later, he returned to Nuuk (Greenland) where he was first curator, and then director of the National Museum of Greenland (Nunatta Katersugaasivia Allagaateqarfialu) from 1976 and 1978. It was during his tenure as director of the museum that the mummies of Qilakitsoq, one of the most significant archaeological finds in Greenland, were discovered in Avannaata municipality, in north-west Greenland. In his mission regarding the preservation and transmission of Greenlandic cultural heritage, Jens Rosing also took part in an expedition in homage to Knud Rasmussen during the years 1979 and 1980. During the same period, from 1960 to 1974, he was vice-president of the Det Grønlandske Selskab (Greenlandic Society), a learned society founded in Copenhagen in 1905, which aims to spread knowledges about Greenland and to strengthen friendly relationships between Greenland and Denmark. Jens Rosing contributed to this mission: he often published popular scientific information concerning Greenlandic culture in Tidskriftet Grønland, a periodical founded by Grønlandske Selskabet in 1953. With the Danish historian Tinna Møbjerg and the Danish painter Asger Jorn, he successively co-authored two books in Danish: the first book deals with Greenlandic traditional art (2001), the second book dealt with Sami traditional art (2005), as a remembrance of his years spent in Northern Scandinavia. Each book was translated into English the same year they were published in Danish.

Jens Rosing is not only committed to the preservation of his country's heritage, he also contributes to enriching this heritage through a considerable multidisciplinary work. Throughout his life, he has pursued a career as a visual artist, as a draftsman and visual artist, and a career as a writer. As a visual artist, Jens Rosing’s legacy to Greenland is several masterful artistic works. In 1963, he decorated the Greenland Seminarium (a teachers school) in Nuuk ; in 1965, he designed the church altar in Aasiaat (also called Egedesminde) in north-west Greenland; and in 1997, he decorated the assembly hall of the Greenland Parliament (Inatsisartut) in Nuuk. He is also the designer of several official decorations. For fifty years (1957-2007), Jens Rosing's illustrations were featured on over one hundred stamps, a third of the stamps issued by the Grønlands Postvæsen (Greenland Post). Jens Rosing is also responsible for the creation of Greenland's national coat of arms, adopted on May 1st, 1989 by the Greenland Parliament (Inatsisartut). It depicts a polar bear – a symbol for the fauna of Greenland – on a blue background referring to the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans that surround the country. Jens Rosing has also illustrated several books: among notable publications, we can mention Fuglene i menneskernes land, a book about Greenlandic birds by the Danish ornithologist Finn Salomonsen on which Jens Rosing worked from 1974 to 1979; in 1994, Kalaallit atuakkiaat 1990 ilanngullugu, a new edition of the first Greenlandic literature history book (1957) by Christian Berthelsen, includes an illustration by Jens Rosing for each chapter. Jens Rosing’s work as a draftsman and visual artist was displayed in several collective and individual exhibitions, mainly in Denmark, between the 1970s and the 1990s. It should be noted that this visual artist also tried his hand at another artistic medium: at the turn of the 1960s and 1970s, he made five short films: Den sidste konebådsrejse (1966), Umialik (1967), Tasiussaĸ (or Tasiussaq) (1969), Emilie fra Sarĸaĸ (or Emilie fra Sarqaq) (1971) et Havet ved Grønland (1972). The last two short films more specifically dealt with traditional Inuit fishing techniques, and were produced for the account of the Kongelige grønlandske Handel, where Jens Rosing started his career.

In addition to being a prolific visual artist, Jens Rosing also had a career as a writer. He wrote numerous stories, poems, chronicles and ethnographic works, of which this text will mention the most outstanding. His first story, published in 1954, Den dragende flok compiles memories of his experiences as a reindeer herder in northern Norway. He then published Isimardik. Den store drabsmand in 1960. However, according to Kirsten Thisted, a specialist in Greenlandic literature and postcolonial studies, it is his collection of Greenlandic tales and legends, Sagn og Saga fra Angmassalik which is said to be his most significant work. This book was co-edited by the Nationalmuseet, the grønlandske Selskabet and Rhodos Editions in 1963. This collection is based upon the recordings made by Jens Rosing himself, by his father Otto Rosing and his uncle Peter Rosing and is a major ethnographic source of Greenlandic literature. It includes the poem “Drabet på Simujoq og Pilákân (fortalt til Otto Rosing af Tiardúko)”, which was republished in 1983 in Christian Berthelsen and Karen Langgaard's anthology Grønlandsk litteratur: en kommenteret antologi. Ammassalik, Jens Rosing's childhood region, is also featured in another publication, Kimilik. Digte fra Angmassalik (1970), also a collection of songs from Eastern Greenland. The memory of his father and uncle as well as his professional experience as a curator and museum director influenced Jens Rosing's writings, which mainly focus on the transmission of Greenlandic oral literature and the narration of the history of his country; two books are an example of this : Ting og undere i Grønland (1973), dealing with the Viking discovery of Greenland and America (10th century), translated into English in 2000 ; another of his outstanding works is the book Himlen er lav (1979). In this book, Rosing describes the discovery of the famous mummies of Qilakitsoq and the scientific studies that followed. He himself illustrates the book with watercolour drawings. The book was translated into English in 1986 as The Sky Hangs Low. Among Jens Rosing’s works, a book in particular combines the ambition of literary fiction with the historical and ethnological interests of the author: Hvis vi vågner til havblik : en slægtssaga fra Østgrønland, published in 1992, chronicles a Greenlandic lineage over several generations. In this story, Jens Rosing attempted to capture the essence of the culture of the East Greenlanders, among whom he lived as a child. The book was translated into French in 2007 as Si nous nous réveillons par temps calme : une saga familiale du Groenland oriental.

Jens Rosing’s work, both artistic and literary, has earned him many awards.

Jens Rosing died in Humlebæk, Denmark, in 2008, leaving behind an immense cultural legacy dedicated to Greenland and, more broadly speaking, to the North.

This biography is based on the available written material during a collective research carried out during 2018-2021. It is possible that mistakes and facts need to be corrected. If you notice an error, or if you wish to correct something in an author's biography, please write to us at and we will be happy to do so. This is how we will be able to have more precise presentations, and to better promote Inuit culture.

(c) International Laboratory for Research on Images of the North, Winter and the Arctic, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2018-2021, Daniel Chartier and al.