Highlights of the National Gallery, Oslo from a Painters POV

Working as an artist in London, but frequently traveling to mysecond base in Oslo has left me spoiled for choice when it comes to great art museums. There are not many cities in the world that can compete with London's National Gallery in that regard, and Oslo is definitely not one of them. However, the National Gallery in Oslo is the best place to discover the masterpieces of Norwegian painting; some are familiar worldwide, some are hardly known outside of Norway.

Norwegian art scene as such emerged around the middle of 19th century; startingwith landscape artists such as Johan Christian Dahl, progressing through the National Romanticism, Realism, Neo-Romanticism and Impressionismand culminating with the iconic works of Edward Munch.

Here is a few works from great Norwegian artists that captured my attention.

Johan Christian Claussen Dahl (1788 – 11857), also known as I.C. Dahl, is the first great romantic painter in Norway and the founder of the "golden age" of Norwegian painting. He is often described as "the father of Norwegian landscape".

I. C.Dahl, View of Dresden by Moonlight, 1838

I. C.Dahl, View of Dresden by Moonlight, 1838

LarsHertervig (1830 – 1902) was renown for his semi- imaginary landscapes with motives from the west-coast of Norway. 

He received his art educationat the Dusseldorf Academy and became associated with DüsseldorfSchool of Painting; a group of painters who studied at the Düsseldorf Academy in the 1830-1840s. The work of the Düsseldorf School is characterized by finely detailed landscapes, often connected with religious or allegorical stories. 

The interesting fact about the Düsseldorf School is that it had a significant influence on the Hudson River School in the United States, with many prominent American artists such asBingham, Cronin, Johnson, Whittredge, Woodville, Hunt and Searle.

Having experienced a temporary mental breakdown in 1854, he struggled financially for his last 30 years, and ended his life in a poorhouse. Because he could not afford to paint with oil on canvas,  his works from this period are mostly watercolors and gouache on paper that was not meant for painting.

His artistic breakthrough came 12 years after his death; today, his work is considered being one of the peaks of Norwegian painting.

Lars Hertervig, Island Borgøya, 1867

Lars Hertervig, Island Borgøya, 1867

Lars Hertervig, The Tarn, 1865

Lars Hertervig, The Tarn, 1865

Peder Balke (1804 – 1887) is among the most pioneering painters of 19th-century Scandinavia. His work was dedicated to capturing the expressiveness and beauty of North Cape seascapes. The lack of commercial success forced him to abandon his artistic career;however, he continued to paint for pleasure as long as he lived. His works today are regarded as highly innovative and has been exhibited in National Gallery in London in 2016 and Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2017. Only recently PederBalke has received his recognition as one of the forerunners of modernism.

Peder Balke, Stetind in Fog, 1864

Peder Balke, Stetind in Fog, 1864

Peder Balke, Lighthouse on the Norwegian Coast, ca. 1855

Peder Balke, Lighthouse on the Norwegian Coast, ca. 1855

Peder Balke, Stormy Sea, ca 1870

Peder Balke, Stormy Sea, ca 1870

Amaldus Clarin Nielsen (1838 – 1932) is often called "Norway's first naturalist painter". 

Having failed to progress at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen, he studied art under Hans Gudeat the Düsseldorf Academy. His work is also associated with Dusseldorf School of Painting; most of his paintings portrayed landscapes of Western and Southern Norway.

He became a successful artist and wasdecorated as a Knight, First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St.Olav in 1890.

Amaldus Nielsen, Farmhouse at Balestrand, 1865

Amaldus Nielsen, Farmhouse at Balestrand, 1865

Adolph Tidemand (1814 – 1876) is best known for this depiction of Norwegian farms and traditional culture and is counted among the first artist addressing the theme of Norwegian history. Hans Fredrik Gude (1825 -1903) was the most prominent Norwegian landscape painter. The two artists met in 1843 on a journey around Norway and become close friends; they collaborated on several paintings in which Gude painted landscapes and Tidemand painted the figures.

One the most important paintings they created is "The Bridal Procession in Hardanger", 1848. At the time when Norway remained sub-ceded by it's union to Sweden, it was very important for the art establishment in the country to emphasize what it meant to be Norwegian: from reverence for Norwegian nature and to the country's traditional dress, music and craft.

Tidemand and Gude, The Bridal Procession in Hardanger, 1848, detail

Tidemand and Gude, The Bridal Procession in Hardanger, 1848, detail

Erik Theodor Werenskiold (1855 – 1938) was one of the most notable realist masters in Norwegian art. Paintings such as Peasant Burial (1885) and On the Plain (1883) became an importantpart of Norway’s visual identity; his portraits captured many of the prominent personalities of his times, such as Henrik Ibsen and Fridtjof Nansen. His illustrations of Norwegian folk tales shaped the visual imagery of what would personages from bygone time look like.

Erik Werenskiold, Peasant Burial (1885)

Erik Werenskiold, Peasant Burial (1885)

Erik Werenskiold, On the Plain (1883)

Erik Werenskiold, On the Plain (1883)

Harriet Backer (1845 – 1932) is considered being a leading figure of her generation and one of the very few female artists who achieved recognition during her lifetime.  Around 1900, her school of painting was an important part of education of Norwegian artists. 

She is best known for her detailed interior scenes, mostly of farms and churches. Although she worked in realist tradition, her work is regarded as being an early impressionist; mostly expressed through her exquisite way of capturing light and colour in her paintings. 

Perhaps the finest example of that are Blue Interior and Christening in Tanum Church

Harriet Backer, Blue Interior, 1883

Harriet Backer, Blue Interior, 1883

Harriet Backer, Christening in Tanum Church,1892

Harriet Backer, Christening in Tanum Church,1892

Harriet Backer, Christening in Tanum Church, detail

Harriet Backer, Christening in Tanum Church, detail

Frits Thaulow (1847 – 1906) was a prolific artist, well-known for his naturalistic depictions of landscapes.

Thaulow was one of the famous Skagen Painters, a group of artists who worked together in Skagen, a summer destination in Denmark whose scenery and quality of light attracted northern artists to painten plain air, emulating the French Impressionists. 

Thaulow became one of the leading figures in the Norwegian art scene; he helped to establish the first National Art Exhibit (also known as Autumn Exhibit) in 1882. 

Thaulow received a number of honors for his artistic activity, including his appointment as commander of the 2ndRoyal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, French Legion of Honor and Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus from Italy. 

Besides from large collection of his work at The National Gallery in Oslo, his work is displayed at The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg , The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University.

Frits Thaulow, Street in Kragerø, 1882

Frits Thaulow, Street in Kragerø, 1882

Christian Krohg (1852 – 1925) was not only a realist painter, but also renown author and journalist.

As an artist, he was inspired by motivesfrom everyday life; often depicting darker or socially inferior sides of the society at the time. He was particularly focused on the subject of prostitution; his own novel Albertine caused a big scandal when it was published in 1886 and was subsequently confiscated by police.

Krohg’s painting style made him a leading figure in the transition from romantisicm to naturalism in Norwegian art. He had a great influence on artists in Skagen Painters group, and also provided early support to Edvard Munch.

Christian Krogh, Albertine at the Police Doctor's Waiting Room, 1887

Christian Krogh, Albertine at the Police Doctor's Waiting Room, 1887

Christian Krogh, Oda Krogh, 1888 - portrait of atrist's wife

Christian Krogh, Oda Krogh, 1888 - portrait of atrist's wife

Harald Oskar Sohlberg (1869 – 1935) was a Norwegian Neo-Romantic painter.

He is particularly known for his depictions of the mountains. Perhaps his most widely recognized paintings, in several variations, is Winter's Night in Rondane.

Harald Sohlberg, Winter's Night in Rondane, 1914

Harald Sohlberg, Winter's Night in Rondane, 1914

Edvard Munch, 1863-1944

Edvard Munch was a prolific artist and printmaker. The mainfocus of his art was a mysterious subject-matter ofhuman life and mortality, such as sexuality, chronic illness and religion. His works are semi-abstract, intense in colour, seemingly striving to provide a window into the human psyche.

Munch eventually became one of the most controversial and renowned artists amongExpressionist and Symbolist painters. 

 Munch's works are represented in numerous major museums and galleries in Norway and abroad. Many of his paintings, such as The Scream and Madonna, have an universal appeal to the present day. Perhaps the somewhat Bissau confirmation of that is the fact that his painting was stolen twice in a short time: The Scream was stolen from the National Gallery in 1994. In 2004, another version of The Scream, along with one of Madonna, were stolen from the Munch Museum. The paintings were eventually recovered, restored after suffering a damage and are on display again.

His painting Vampire set a new record in 2008 when it was sold for US$38.162 million at Sotheby's New York.

Munch's image appears on the Norwegian 1000 kroner banknote as an acknowledgment for his priceless contribution to art in general, and to the Norwegian art in particular.

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-86 (detail)

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1885-86 (detail)

Edvard Munch, The dance of life, 1900

Edvard Munch, The dance of life, 1900

Edvard Munch, Puberty, 1895

Edvard Munch, Puberty, 1895

Edvard Munch, Madonna, 1894

Edvard Munch, Madonna, 1894

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1893

Leaving the building of the National Gallery, I can't help thinking that the collection I have seen reflects the country itself - small, but mighty. Just like Norway, it is very much about the beauty of landscape painting, about the magic of faith tales that still dwells within the woods and mountains, the majestic waves of the Northern sea and the ever changing light of the northern skies. It will get you to see what Norwegians see when they look at their country and it's people though the eyes of artists.

www.nasjonalmuseet.no

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