Wilhelm Hansen’s great interest for art dates back to his school days when he shared his interest with his friend and classmate Peter Hansen, who later became known as one of the so-called Funen Painters. Peter Hansen introduced Wilhelm to his artist friends, several of whom, including for example, Viggo Johansen and Thorvald Bindesbøll, became good friends of Wilhelm and Henny Hansen. Many of their paintings are represented in the collection. Continuously throughout their life Wilhelm and Henny Hansen collected paintings by Danish artists of the Golden age and by contemporary artists. The paintings adorned their private home.
Wilhelm Hansen became acquainted with French Impressionist painting during his many business trips to Paris. In the years 1916 to 1918 he succeeded in creating a collection of paintings entirely unique in Northern Europa, which included works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Sisley and Gauguin. Each painting was carefully selected, and Wilhelm Hansen consulted e.g. the French art critic Théodore Duret, who was a friend of the Impressionist painters, as well as one of their most ardent supporters in contemporary art debate.
Wilhelm Hansen was a visionary and thus set out to create a collection with up to twelve works by each of the most important artists, ranging from Corot to Cézanne. With its manageable scope, the collection provides a coherent overview of early modernist art.
In 1922 Wilhelm Hansen suffered a considerable financial and personal blow when the bank Landmandsbanken crashed. In order to pay his debts, Wilhelm Hansen was forced to sell off some of his French collection, and a significant part of the paintings were sold to foreign collectors. He, however, overcame the crisis and soon after began acquiring French paintings for his collection again.