In past blogs I have looked at some of the well known Norwegian painters such as Edvard Munch, Thomas Fearnley, Johan Christian Dahl and Peder Balke. In today’s short blog I am going to examine the life and work of another artist from that country, one less well-known, Thorolf Holmboe.
Thorolf Holmbloe was born in May 1866 in Vefsn a municipality in Helgeland which is the most southerly district in Northern Norway. He was the eldest son of Othar Ervigius Holmbloe, a Customs cashier and Sofie Birgitte Andrea Hall. He had two sisters, an elder one, Halfrid and a younger one, Gudrun and four younger brothers, Othar, who was also an artist and illustrator although he trained as a chemist and Birger, Jens and Thorvald. Around the age of eight Thorolf and his family moved to the coastal town of Tromso and it was around this time he received his first watercolour painting lessons. His father, who had an interest in art and was a founder of a local gallery, and probably encouraged his son to take up painting.
Thorolf attended school in Christiania (now called Oslo) and graduated in 1884. He then attended the military academy where he was a reserve officer in 1886. In 1886, he studied marine art under the Norwegian marine painter, Carl Wilhelm Barth. That year he travelled to Berlin where he enrolled, for a year, at the Berlin Academy of Art and studied under the professorship of the Norwegian romanticist artist and revered landscape painter Hans Gude. After returning to Norway he studied at the Drawing School in Christiania under the sculptor, Julius Middelthun.
In August 1888 Thorolf married Julia Caspara Nilssen and the couple went on to have two children, a son, Erik Oscar born in 1895 and a daughter Erna Johanne who was born in 1899.
In 1889 he again left home to study art. This time Holmbloe travelled to Paris where he remained for two years and studied at the atelier of the French painter, Fernand Cormon, who was a regular exhibitor at the annual Paris Salon. Cormon had in the past had Toulouse-Lautrec, Louis Anquetin, Van Gogh and Émile Bernard as former students. Holmboe also attended classes at the École des Beaux-Arts where he was tutored by the French painter, Léon Joseph Florentin Bonnat .
Many of the Norwegian artists at the time completed paintings which formed what was termed a “Norwegian style” as they focused wholly or in part on aspects of Norwegian heritage. Holmboe avoided this style and instead focused on Norwegian nature especially around his former home in the north of the country. For him the beauty of his homeland is what he wanted to bring to the fore and this style was very popular with buyers in Norway and the rest of the world.
He completed many seascapes and it was probably his early life around Vefsn and Tromso that had such a great influence on his art. He developed a strong affinity for the ocean and the power of the sea and this empathy with the power of nature stayed with him for the rest of his life.
He exhibited in Munich in 1891 and Paris in 1900 and went on to exhibit internationally and was granted solo exhibitions in Paris, Antwerp, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and London. In his 1907 exhibition in London he exhibited many of his snow scenes. More recently his work appeared in an exhibition entitled Symbolism in Norwegian Landscape Painting at the Palazzo del Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy in 2001.
Between 1906 and 1925, Holmboe came up with designs and artwork for the famous Norwegian pottery maker, Porsgrund. The pottery with some of his designs were used as decoration in the exhibition halls of the 1913 Prima Esposizione internazionale d’arte della Secessione Romana (First Roman Secession Exhibition).
Many of Holmbloe’s paintings featured seabirds, rocky cliffs and the rough coastal waters
Around the start of the twentieth century Holmboe’s paintings took on a more gloomy appearance. It was also around the time that he completed paintings featuring the River Akerselven which flows through the city of Oslo. One such work is his 1902 painting entitled Fra Akerselven (From Akerselven). It depicts the River Akerselven which flows through the Norwegian city.
Another painting featuring the river was done in 1903 entitled Utsikt over Akerselven (Overlooking Alerselven). Once again it is a painting made up of dark and muted colours and this has added to the realism of the depiction.
One of the most original Norwegian writers of the nineteenth century was the Lutheran priest and poet, Petter Dass, whose most famous work was Nordlands trompet (The Trumpet of Nordland), a versified topographical description of northern Norway. It gives a lively picture, in verse, of the life of a clergyman in this part of the country. In the 1892 the edition of Petter Dass’ book, with its descriptions of the people and nature of Northern Norway, it was accompanied by the illustrations of Thorolf Holmboe. Holmboe also designed many book covers, folders, telegrams and postcards.
In 1908 Holmboe participated in a hunting expedition to Spitsbergen and Hopen where he painted hunting and wildlife. Particularly popular were the pictures of polar bears that “sail” on ice floes (see the Porsgrund vase above).
The first decade of the twentieth century proved a difficult time for Holmboe to sell his works of art and despite his huge popularity at home he could not establish himself internationally and so he relied financially on his book illustration work and decoration designs. However it was not all gloom for him in that first decade as he did receive good reviews of his marine paintings when they were exhibited in Antwerp in 1903 and 1904 and in Berlin in 1907 and 1909. Things changed after the First World War with their being a greater demand for works of art and Holmboe was ready having built up a large collection of his paintings. The subjects of these works were varied and included bathing scenes, marine life, still lifes, interiors and garden landscapes. Thorolf Holmboe was appointed Knight of the 1st Class Order of St. Olav in 1900 and he was knighted by the French Legion of Honour.
Thorolf Holmboe died in Oslo in March 1935, aged 68.