The Krohg Family. Part 2 – Oda Krohg the Bohemian Princess

 

Self Portrait by Oda Krohg (1892)

I start this second blog about the Krohg family by delving back in history…..

Christian Fredrik Jacob von Munthe af Morgenstierne was a descendent of Bredo Munthe of Bekkeskov, who on 19 December 1755 was ennobled under the name von Munthe af Morgenstierne. Christian married Anastasia Sergiewna Soltikoff, a Russian princess in 1836 and the couple went on to have six children. The second eldest was a daughter, Alexandra Cathrine Henriette von Munthe af Morgenstierne who was born on March 5th, 1838. On May 8th, 1857 in Christiania (Oslo), at the age of nineteen, she married Christian Carl Otto Lasson, a government attorney. Over the next seventeen years Alexandra gave birth to eleven children, the third of whom was a daughter, Othilia Pauline Christine Lasson who was born on June 11th, 1860. Othilia Lasson became known as Oda Lasson, and would eventually become Oda Krohg.

A subscriber to the Aftenposten by Oda Krohg (1887)

Oda Lasson was brought up in an intellectual bourgeois environment with artistic, especially musical interests. Hers was a large family, which consisted of her parents, eight sisters and two brothers. When she was twenty-one years old she married a businessman, Jørgen Engelhardt. The couple had two children, a daughter Sacha in 1882 and a son, Frederik in 1883. Oda and her husband split up shortly after the birth of their second child and she left the family home with her two children. However, it would be another five years before Oda and Jørgen were officially divorced.

Japanese Light by Oda Lasson (1886)

It was also around 1883 that Oda Lasson decided to follow her love of art and in January 1884 she enrolled at a private painting school for ladies in Christiania which was run by Christian Krohg and Erik Werenskiold. Before attending this school, she had had n0 formal art education, but she was a willing student and soon began to progress with her art. The first painting she exhibited was entitled Ved Christianiafjorden (japansk lykt) (At the Oslofjord (Japanese Light). This is now in the National Gallery of Oslo.

Portrait of Christian Krohg by Oda Krohg (1903)

A close relationship developed between Oda and her art tutor, Christian Krohg and soon they became lovers which culminated on August 8th, 1885, with the birth of their first child Nana. Christian and Oda finally married in 1888 after her divorce from Jørgen Engelhardt was finalised. The following June, her second child, Per, was born during Christian Krohg and her stay at their summer residence in the coastal resort of Åsgårdstrand, about 100 km south of Oslo.

Poor little one by Oda Krohg (c.1900)
Christian Krohg and his daughter Nana

It was through her liaison with Krohg that Oda became part of the Bohemian movement of Christiania (Oslo), known as the Kristiania-bohemen and Oda soon became referred to as the Bohemian Princess due to her maternal ancestors. This small but conspicuous group of young students, artists and writers living in the capital shared radical and incisively critical views on bourgeois society. This group of upper-class intellectuals, writers, and artists dealt with controversial issues like urban poverty, prostitution, and sexual bigotry.

Chinese Lantern by Oda Krohg (1889)

One such member was the artist Edvard Munch. One of the leading lights of this bohemian movement was Hans Jaeger, a one-time seaman, one-time philosophy student and part time government stenographer. He was a colourful and controversial figure who made himself spokesperson for free love during the early 1880’s and he strived to promote the importance of sexuality. The group wanted full sexual freedom between the sexes in the same social class – in practice the upper classes – and the abolition of the institution of marriage. Bizarrely, Jaeger wanted to establish a school for women, which among other things would educate them and make them conscious of their lusts and follow them, so that neither them nor the men would be robbed of their part of the wonders of life !!

Cover of Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen. A novel by Hans Jæger

Jaeger’s downfall came in 1885 with the publication of his novel Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen (From Christiania’s Bohemia). The novel which was set in Christiania, was about two men who lived in lodgings and spent their days drinking in cafés, discussing philosophy, literature, and society reforms. One of them ends his life by committing suicide, shooting himself after spending his last night with a prostitute. The book was immediately banned by the Ministry of Justice, and the police managed to confiscate most of the printed copies shortly after its publication. Jæger received a 60-day prison sentence for the infringement of modesty and public morals, and for blasphemy. He avoided part of the sentence by moving to Paris, where he spent most of the rest of his life.

Portrait of Hans Jaeger by Edvard Munch (1889)

Munch painted a portrait of Hans Jaeger in 1889. In the depiction we see Jaeger slouched on a sofa. He stares out at us through his spectacles. His facial expression is emotionless and there is a sense of aloofness. He is dressed in a tight-fitting overcoat and wears a wide-brimmed hat which is placed on his head at a jaunty angle. The light source is to the left and casts deep shadows creating flickers of red-violet, brown and blue green hues. For many years the painting remained in Munch’s possession and was shown in most of his exhibitions in the 1890s. In 1897 he offered it to the National Gallery in Oslo, which duly purchased it.

Oda Krohg and Jappe Nilssen, photo from 1891

Christian Krohg and Oda’s roles in the organisation may not be fully known but there are a couple of aspects of the Kristiania-bohemen group which had a part to play in their lives. The sexual freedom advocated by many in the group seemed to have an effect on Oda and Christian’s marriage as it was what is now often termed as, an “open marriage” and it is known that Oda, despite being married to Christian  had a number of lovers, including Hans Jaeger, the Norwegian writer and art historian, Jappe Nilssen and the playwright Gunnar Heiberg. In Jaeger’s 1893 novel Syk Kjærlihet (Diseased Love), he describes a love triangle where he was strongly in love with a woman who was to marry an artist. It is believed that Oda was the model for the woman, and the book depicted the relation between himself, Oda and Christian during the summer and autumn of 1888.

Another aspect of Hans Jaeger’s philosophy which influenced Christian Krohg was Jaeger’s support of prostitutes and how he believed that the reason women turned to prostitution was due to the State’s social system.

Madeleine by Christian Krohg (1883)

In 1883 Krohg produced a painting entitled Madeleine. In the depiction we see a bleak and bare bedroom. A young woman sits on a thin mattress on a simple iron bedstead. From the little clothes she is wearing and the unmade nature of the bedding we think she is just getting up. However, what is more telling is her demeanour. Her body droops forwards and her head is cast downwards supported by her left hand. We are not allowed to see her face. Is she ashamed? In her right hand she seems to be holding a mirror. Has she been viewing her image? Is she unhappy at what she sees? It is thought that Krohg is portraying her as a “fallen woman” who is engaged in prostitution. Maybe her demeanour is one of sadness at what she has just done and is unable to come to terms with the shame. Like most paintings that seem to have a message it is up to the viewer to ponder on the possible story behind the image.

The novel Albertine

In 1886 Krohg wrote a novel, Albertine. The novel is set in Norway’s capital, Christiania, and looks at the plight of an unmarried but spirited seamstress Albertine, who is seduced by a police officer and because of her financial desperation and lack of support from the authorities, is forced into prostitution. The book caused a stir and embarrassed the authorities resulting in its confiscation of all copies the day after its publication. In 1888 the Supreme Court of Norway upheld the ruling, and Krohg was sentenced to pay a fine of 100 kr. Krohg went on to make a number of paintings based on the book and the world of prostitution.

Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room by Christian Krohg (1887)

Christian Krohg painted a number of pictures based on his novel.  In 1877 the most famous of these is his work entitled Albertine i politilægens venteværelse (Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room) which is housed in the National Gallery in Oslo. The painting is set in a police station and depicts a number of women that have been arrested for being prostitutes. We see Albertine at the head of the queue at the door of the examination room where she will be examined by a doctor.  She is dressed in a simple plain costume and is wearing a headscarf, unlike the garish clothes worn by the other women, which were the normal adornment of the “street workers” of the time.

The public outcry following the confiscation of the book finally led to a partial de-criminalising of prostitution in Norway. The change in the Penal Code in 1902 did not signal that prostitution was to become allowed by society. It did however accept that the exchange of sex in one’s own home was now legal but maintained that loitering and procurement on the streets or in a public place would remain illegal and that women arrested for selling sex in public were to be entered into rehabilitation programmes. Ironically, the current law in Norway which bans purchase of sex and any money earned is illegal and yet such money is taxable!!!!
Krohg’s book, Albertine, was published again in 1921 without any murmurs from the authorities.

The Struggle for Existence by Christian Krohg (1889)

It was not just the plight of prostitutes that featured in Krohg’s paintings. He was very interested in the state of poverty in his own country and his painting The Struggle for Existence was one of his major projects and also one of his finest works. The setting for the scene is Oslo’s main thoroughfare, Karl Johan Street, on a cold winter’s day. The street and pavements are covered in a slushy snow and the cold has almost freed the street of people with the exception of a crowd of poor women and children who are queuing for the chance to be given some free food. We see both women and children clutching empty baskets and cannisters which they hope to fill with food given to them. To the left we can make out a hand sticking out from behind the pillars which is holding a bread roll which is part of the free food. This could be a bakery and the baker has decided to give the poor some of yesterday’s stale bread. The people are poorly dressed in shabby and ragged clothing. In the middle of the street we observe a policeman walking towards the crowd but seemingly uninterested in what is happening.

Gunnar Heiberg by Oda Krohg (1900)

Oda Krohg’s extra-marital relationship with the playwright Gunnar Heiberg became serious around 1897 and Oda declared she was in love with him. She left Oslo in 1897, and took her eight-year-old son, Per, and went to live with Heiberg in Paris. Christian also left the Norwegian capital in 1901 and moved to Paris where he became an art instructor at Académie Colarossi in 1902. Later Oda set herself up in an artist’s studio in Montparnasse and soon immersed herself into the art world of Paris meeting most of the leading artists including Henri Matisse. Having now established herself she began to exhibit her work at the Salon d’Automne. Oda’s restless nature kicked in once again and around this time she began a relationship with the poet and art critic Jappe Nilssen. When that finally died she returned to her husband, Christian and Oda along with their children left Paris and returned to Oslo in 1909 but would often return to Paris for long periods and did not final settle down in Oslo until 1911. From 1909 to 1925 Christian held the post of professor and director of the newly founded Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Oslo.

Five to Twelve by Christian Krohg (c 1924)

One of Christian Krohg’s last paintings which he completed a year before his death was entitled Five to Twelve. On the face of it, it appears to be a self-portrait and we see him with his long white beard, but almost bald, as he sleeps in a chair beneath a pendulum clock. The face of the clock is completely blank, but the title of the artwork tells us the time: it is five minutes to midnight, close to midnight and maybe meant to symbolise that it is close to the end of his life.

Grave of Christian Krohg and Oda Krohg at Vår Frelsers gravlund, Oslo, Norway.

In 1925, Krohg retired as the director of the State Academy of Art, and he died in Oslo a few months later, on 16 October, aged 73. Oda Krohg died exactly ten years later on October 15th 1935, aged 75. Christian and Oda are buried at the Cemetery of Our Saviour in Oslo.

Per Lasson Krohg

Christian and Oda Krohg’s son, Per Lasson Krohg, who was born in Åsgårstrand, Norway in June 1889, followed in his parent’s footsteps and became an artist. As a teenager, he received his artistic training from his father and, when he was twenty years old, had Henri Matisse for a mentor. Per Lasson Krohg’s artistic work was varied and covered simple drawings on paper, to colour illustrations, and from designing posters to set design and sculpture, but he will probably be remembered mainly for the oil canvas mural he painted in 1952 for the United Nations Security Council Chamber, located in the United Nations building.

Mural at the United Nations Security Council Chamber by Per Lasson Krohg

It depicts a phoenix rising from its ashes, as a symbol of the world being rebuilt after the Second World War. Above the dark sinister colours at the bottom different images in bright colours symbolizing the hope for a better future are depicted. Equality is symbolized by a group of people weighing out grain for all to share.

Nana Krohg, Christian and Oda’s daughter was born in Brussels in the summer of 1885. At this time, Oda was still married to Engelhart and his living with Oda was passed off as a “study stay”. Nana Krohg’s art career was neither long nor particularly comprehensive. At the age of 18, she attended an art school and received tuition for the next two years from the Norwegian painter, Johan Nordhagen. Nana never became a professional artist and after her marriage to Anton Schweigaard around 1909, she simply used her artistic skills in design and homemaking for her own use. The couple had two children, Anton Martin and Line.

Advertisements

The Krohg Family – Part 1 – Christian Krohg. The early years and life at Skagen

Christian Krohg

The art of one of the painters I am looking at today was compartmentalised as being works of a Naturalism genre and also of a Realism genre. So what is Naturalism and how does it differ to Realism when appertaining to art?

The best way to describe Naturalism is to say that it is a type of art that pays attention to very accurate and precise details. It is painting which is true to what we see without any falsification or artistic interpretation.  That sounds like Realism !

Naturalism was an artistic movement, which came into being in the mid-nineteenth century and embodied things closer to the way we observed them. Prior to this, depictions of landscapes or human beings tended to be idealised or rendered according to precepts resulting from the traditions of classical art. Naturalism was a denouncement of the fantasy world of Romanticism, which had flourished from the late eighteenth century into the first half of the nineteenth century. Naturalism is also often associated with plein air painting.

But is this not the definition of Realism? The two are close but Realism, especially Social Realism, focuses more on social realities and concentrates on content rather than the methodology of the work. Realism tends to deliberate on who or what is being painted rather than how it was painted and realist depictions often muse over ordinary people, who are often struggling with life. Often Realism paintings have a moralistic story to tell and they then tend to be viewed as a commentary on the social and political life of the day. Naturalism tends to be more about how the work has been painted ensuring that it is true to life.

Self Portrait by Christian Krohg

Christian Krohg was born in Vestre Aker, a district of the city of Oslo on August 13th 1852, the son of the journalist and publisher, Georg Anton Krohg and Sophie Amalie Holst. His paternal grandfather, Christian Krohg was a lawyer, government minister, and had at various times served as Minister of the Interior and Minister of Finance.

Christian was the second-born of their children and had four sisters, Anna Helene Nicoline, born in June 1850, Stine Marie, born in December 1854, Nanna born in January 1859, and Sophie Amalie Holst born in April 1861. Christian’s mother died on April 28th 1861, seven days after having given birth to Sophie and maybe in memory of her mother she was also named Sophie Amalie Holst. In June 1868 more sadness was to befall Christian’s family when Christian’s younger sister, Nanna, contracted tuberculosis and died, aged nine.

Still life with a D.O.M. Bottle by Christian Krohg (1883)
The D.O.M. stands for Deo Optimo Maximo which means – To God most good, most great.

Following his normal schooling Christian went to the Royal Frederick University (now the University of Oslo) in 1869 to study law, the plan, probably fostered by his father, being that he would become a lawyer, like his grandfather.   However for Christian his main interest was art and maybe through an agreement with his father that if he studied for a law degree he would be allowed to also attend art classes at the local drawing schools. He attended both Johan Fredrik Eckersberg’s private art school from 1869 to 1870 and later the drawing class of Julius Middelthun, the Norwegian sculptor, at the Royal School of Art and Design of Christiana (Oslo).

Braiding her Hair by Christian Krohg (1888)

On April 13th 1873, during his university studies, Christian’s father Georg died, aged fifty-six. The following year, at the end of his five year law course, he attained a law degree but instead of practicing law he decided to travel to Germany with his friend and fellow artist, Eilif Peterssen and they both enrolled at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe, where two of his professors were Karl Gussow, the German Realist painter, and Hans Gude, the Norwegian Romanticist painter and one of Norway’s foremost landscape painters. Gude spent most of his adult life as a professor of art and was a leading figure in the advancement of Norwegian art. To young, aspiring Norwegian artists of the mid and late nineteenth century, Gude was a god and they would travel to Germany to enrol on courses taught by him at academies in Dusseldorf, Berlin and Karlsruhe.

Georg Brandes – sketch by P S Krøyer (1900)

Christian Krohg remained at the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe for a year before moving on to the Berlin Academy in 1875, a move that had already been made by his former professor, Karl Gussow. Krohg remained in Berlin for three years. Whilst there he made friends with the German symbolist painter, Max Klinger and the Danish writer and philosopher, Georg Brandes.   Brandes writings were centered on the concept of realism and were diametrically opposed to the world of fantasy in literature. He was looked upon as the founder of the Cultural Radicalism movement. According to Aarhus Universitet’s Institut for Kultur og Samfund, Cultural Radicalism can be looked upon as:

“…Cultural radicalism must be understood from its cultural and philosophical origins in the modern breakthrough in the last half of the 19th century, as well as from the actual roots of rationalism of enlightenment. In Denmark, cultural radicalism has rooted in the bourgeois radicalism of the 1870s and in the intellectual environment around the brothers Georg and Edvard Brandes and Viggo Hørup. The bourgeois radical ideas constituted a cultural battle against the authority of the church and the state, and they concerned in particular the right to individual expression, freedom of opinion and tolerance, and criticism of what was considered to be a restricted, oppressive and colorless civil culture…”

Charles Lundh in Conversation with Christian Krohg by Christian Krohg (1883)
Charles Lundh, a Norwegian painter, lived together with Christian Krohg and the Swedish painters Johan Krouthén and Oscar Björck in a house in Skagen in 1883

Krohg was very attentive to the views of Brandes and became more aware of the social and political problems of the time. These views were enhanced by the poor quality of his living standards during his time in Berlin, which almost bordered on out and out poverty   More importantly for Krohg it was his friendship with Georg Brandes that led to him being introduced to Emile Zola, the great French writer, playwright and journalist.  Zola was interested in the world of art and as a journalist in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s, he produced many newspaper articles defending the art of Cézanne, Manet, and the emerging Impressionists, such as Monet, Renoir and Degas, all of whom were being criticised by the artistic elite. It was also Zola who first coined the term Naturalism, defining it as a literary movement, which gave emphasis to observation and the methodology used in the fictional portrayal of reality.

Farewell by Christian Krohg

It was in the following year, 1876, that Krohg exhibited his painting entitled A Farewell. For the time he concentrated on his portraiture and two works of note was his 1876 portrait of Lucy Eyeberg and his depiction of his friend Georg Brandes which he completed in 1879

The year 1879 was of great importance to Christian Krohg as it was during that summer that he first went to Skagen, a Danish fishing community on the north coast of Jutland. Christian and his fellow Norwegian painter and former fellow student in Karlsruhe, Frits Thaulow, travelled to Skagen in Thaulow’s small sailboat and remained there through to the end of autumn. Skagen had become a summer meeting place for artists in the late 1870’s and remained such up until the end of the nineteenth century.

Dining room in Brøndums Hotel (ca. 1891) showing some of the group and the panel of their portraits

It was because of its favourable natural light that it was so popular with the plein-air artists from Scandinavia, such as husband and wife artists, Anna and Michael Ancher, Peder Severin Krøyer and his wife Marie, Karl Madsen and Viggo Johansen, as well as painters from northern Europe.  It was this fascination with the changing natural light that had also inspired the Impressionists. Many of the Skagen artists had spent time in Paris and they were influenced by the French Barbizon artists and the world of Realism. This style of painting was contrary to the inflexible conventions set out by academies such as The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, which believed students should adhere to painting in the favoured Academic styles of Historicism and Neoclassicism. Michael Ancher, Karl Madsen and Viggo Johansen had also studied at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen.

Ane Gaihede by Christian Krohg (1888)

The early members of the Skagen artistic community had been befriended by Brøndum family, who were the owners of a local shop/bar and soon it became the meeting place for the Skagen painters and their literary friends. Peder Severin Krøyer became very friendly with the Brøndum’s fifteen-year-old daughter Marie and six years later the pair were married.

Woman cutting bread by Christian Krohg (1879)

Christian Krogh became a regular summer visitor to Skagen during the mid and late 1880’s and it was during those times that he focused on one family, the Gaihede family, for the subject of many of his works. Husband and wife, Niels and Ana Gaihede, along with their son Rasmus and daughter-in-law, Tine and their two children Ane and Sofus. One such painting featured the matriarch of the family Ana Gaihede who modelled for Krohg’s 1879 painting Woman Cutting Bread. Sixty-six year old Ana is seen in three-quarter length profile against a blank background, save for three small pictures, which allows us to focus completely on the subject of the work. It is a fascinating depiction, which gives us an insight into the people and their culture of the time.

The Net Mender by Christian Krohg

In another of Krohg’s works featuring the Gaihede family, The Net Mender, we see both Ana and her husband Niels depicted. In this 1880 work Niels can be seen repairing his fishing net whilst Ana sits stony-faced in the background making balls of fibre, which will be used in the repairing of the net. The walls of their home are a dull grey and the only thing breaking up the monotony of the colour are a few magazine pictures of animals and boats which may have been for the benefit of Sofus their six-year-old grandson. Looking at the interior furnishings of the home and the dress of the two characters one can detect a frugal standard of living, maybe not poverty-stricken but one in which every krone counts.

Niels Gaihede by Christian Krohg (1888)

Christian Krohg won a state stipend in 1881 and travelled to Paris, where he taught at an art school for women. In those days most of the prestigious art establishments denied women access to art tuition and Krohg could see the error of this dictate and wanted to be supportive of the female cause. Maybe Krohg was sympathetic with regards the plight of women in general as it is known that at about this time he was also becoming more and more interested in painting pictures which highlighted people’s struggle with everyday life and especially the great effort women had to make just to survive.

The Sick Girl by Christian Krohg (1881)

In 1881 he completed a very poignant painting entitled The Sick Girl. It was the depiction of a girl who had been struck down by tuberculosis and was dying. Krohg would be painfully aware that this killer disease had also taken his youngest sister, Nanna, thirteen years earlier. It is a haunting depiction. The girl sits upright in a wooden chair with a cushioned back. A thick woollen blanket covers the lower part of her body. Look at the girl’s tight-lipped facial expression. It is a mixture of sadness and fear. Maybe she is aware that her life is ebbing away. Her hands are tightly clasped together, as if in prayer, as she clutches the stem of a pale pink rose, the leaves and petals of which are starting to fall to the ground. The rose like the girl is dying.  One cannot help but be moved by such a depiction.

Babord litt (Port side) by Christian Krohg (1879)

During his time in the French capital he became influenced by the works of Édouard Manet and his modern scenes, which were often controversial. Even now, Manet is looked upon as the father of modernism. During his stay in Paris Krohg had two of his works accepted for the 1882 Salon. One of which was entitled Port Side, which he had started whilst living in Berlin but did not complete until 1879 whilst living in Skagen. It is a depiction of great detail. Look how Krohg has portrayed the clothes worn by the seaman. They have been well worn and impregnated with oil and dirt. They are old and have had to be patched and these details, along with the backdrop of the rough seas, add to the atmospheric mood of the work and we can sense how the bow of the vessel is about to dive headlong into the unforgiving swell.

Girl with a Rake by Jules Breton (1859)

During his stay in Paris Krohg had been very interested in the works of the leading French Social Realist painters of the time, Jules Breton, who was known for his depictions of peasant themes, Jules Bastien-Lepage, a painter noted for his sentimental naturalistic paintings of rural life and Léon Lhermitte, whose main theme for his paintings was also rural scenes depicting peasants at work.

Sovende mor med barn (Sleeping mother with child) by Christian Krohg (1883)

Krohg’s developing interest was the plight of women and their everyday trials and tribulations, which had to be overcome just to survive. Tiredness is one of the greatest afflictions that beset mothers with small children and Krohg’s 1883 painting Mother and Child highlights this perfectly. The work is housed in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.

Trett (Tired) by Christian Krohg (1885)

Again exhaustion features in his 1885 work simply entitled, Tired, which shows a young woman who has fallen asleep during working on her sewing machine.

In the second part of the blog about Christian Krohg and his family I will be looking at his fascination with and his depiction of “fallen women” and how it got himself into trouble with the authorities.  I will also look at the life of his wife, Oda, and his unusual and sometimes turbulent marriage.

Eilif Peterssen

Self portrait by Eilif Peterssen (1876)

My featured artist today is one who produced many paintings of differing genres, such as history paintings, landscape and seascape paintings and portraiture.

 Hjalmar Eilif Emanuel Peterssen was born on September 4th, 1852 in Christiania, (known as Oslo since 1925), and spent his early life in the Christiania borough of Frogner.  He attended the local schools and at the age of seventeen enrolled at the city’s Johan Fredrik Eckersberg School of Painting.  This painting school, on Lille Grensen in Christiania, had been established in 1859 by the Norwegian artist, Johan Fredrik Eckersberg. After Eckersberg’s death in 1870, the running of the school was taken over by two Norwegian painters Knud Bergslien and Morten Müller.

Eilif Peterssen by Peder Severin Kroyer (1883)

From there, in 1871, Peterssen went to Denmark and studied briefly at the Art Academy in Copenhagen.  Later that year, Peterssen travelled to the German city of Karlsruhe where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts and was student of Ludwig des Coudres, the German history and portrait painter and first director of the academy, and the German landscape painter, Wilhelm Riefstahl.  Also resident professor at the Academy was Hans Gude, who was considered to be one of Norway’s foremost landscape painters.  Another painter who influenced Peterssen during his stay in Karlsruhe was the history painter Carl Friedrich Lessings and his richly landscaped landscapes with historical scenes.  Lessings was a director at the Academy.

 In the Autumn of 1873, Peterssen moved to Munich he became a pupil at the city’s Academy of Fine Arts and one of his tutors was Wilhelm von Diez, the German painter and illustrator of the Munich School.  He also spent time studying under Franz von Lenbach.

Christian II signing the Death Warrant of Torben Oxe by Eilif Peterssen

Every successful artist needs to have had a breakthrough painting, one which announces his arrival on the art scene.  For Peterssen his breakthrough work was an historical painting he completed in 1876 entitled Christian II Signing the Death Warrant of Torben Oxe.  The story behind the depiction is from sixteenth century history of the Nordic countries.  Christian II was the last Roman Catholic king of Denmark and Torben Oxe was a noble who was appointed Governor of Copenhagen Castle. In the summer of 1517, Dyveke Sigbritsdatter, the king’s mistress, fell ill and died and Torben Oxe was accused by Dyveke’s mother of her daughter’s murder by poisoning her through a box of cherries. Christian II believed the accusation and condemned his friend Oxe to death.  In the painting we see Christian, unmoved by the momentous event, signing the death warrant.  His wife, is at her husband’s left and is seen pleading with her husband for Oxe’s life.  Oxe was beheaded, and his body burned.

Three Women in Church by Wilhelm Leibl (1878-81)

Eilif Peterssen’s portraiture had become very popular and besides his commissioned works he would paint many un-commissioned portraits of people.  In my Daily Art Display of March 1st, 2011, I showcased an oil on mahogany masterpiece by the acclaimed German realist artist Wilhelm Liebl entitled Three Women in a Church.  He started the work in October 1878 and did not complete it until December 1881.  It is a depiction of three women of three different generations, dressed in regional costumes, sitting in a church.

In the Church by Eilif Peterssen (1878)

In 1878 Peterssen completed a very similar depiction, Under Salmesangen (In the Church).  Again, like Liebl’s work, Peterssen has depicted three women of different generations sitting together.  The old lady, dressed in widow’s garb is seated in the centre with her hands clasped in prayer and rosary beads dangling from her wrists.  She looks upwards as she prays. Maybe she is asking for divine strength to carry on with life. To her right sits a young girl, curls of her red hair lay across her forehead and to the old lady’s left sits a young woman, who with folded hands, demurely peruses her hymn book.  I like the way Peterssen has depicted the facial expression of the young woman – shy and demure, and lost in thought.

Judas Iskariot by Eilif Peterssen (1878)

In the same year he painted a religious work entitled Judas Iskariot which is housed in the Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum in Tromso.  The light from the lamp that Judas is carrying lights up the face of Christ.  I am fascinated by Peterssen’s depiction of Christ’s facial expression in the painting.

Mary, Christ’s Mother by Eilif Peterssen (1877)

The previous year, 1877, Peterssen was invited to participate in a competition to produce an altarpiece for the newly built church of St Johannes in Oslo.  He was then commissioned to paint a crucifixion scene part of which would be his depiction of the Virgin Mary entitled Mary, Christ’s Mother.  The brown and red tones he used in this portrait were similar to the ones he used in his depiction of Judas Iscariot and was influenced by the brownish palette of the Munich School painters.

In 1879, aged twenty-seven, Eilif Peterssen married Nicoline Gram, the daughter of Major General Johan Georg Boll Gram, the Court Marshal.

Breakfast in Sora by Peder Severin Krøyer (1880)

Peterssen and his wife Nicoline visited Sora, a town in the Italian commune of Lazio, in 1880 together with the Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer, and this was captured in Krøyer’s painting Breakfast in Sora which depicted himself with Nicoline and Eilif Peterssen, and the painter Christian Meyer Ross.

Siesta i et osteria i Sora by Eilif Peterssen (1880)

Peterssen also documented his stay to the mountain village of Sora with his 1880 painting set in an Osteria, a place for serving wine and simple food, Siesta in an Osteria in Sora.

Kunstnerens hustru Nicoline Peterssen, født Gram (The Artist’s Wife Nicoline Peterssen, born Gram) by Eilif Peterssen

Sadly, the Peterssen’s marriage to Nicoline lasted just three years as Nicoline died in 1882, aged thirty-two.  Eilif painted a picture of his wife entitled Kunstnerens hustru Nicoline Peterssen, født Gram (The Artist’s Wife Nicoline Peterssen, born Gram).  I think it is a somewhat unflattering depiction of his wife.

Moonrise over the Dunes by Eilif Peterssen (1883)

A year after his wife’s death, Peterssen went to the Danish artist colony of Skagen in the summer of 1883.  Since the 1870’s, the Northern Danish coastal village of Skagen was a summer meeting place for a group of Scandinavian artists, such as the husband and wife pair, Michael and Anna Ancher, Christian Krohg and Peder Severin Krøyer.  The area around the village attracted the plein air artists because of its scenic delight and the quality of light.  It was often compared to what the Barbizon School of painters found in and around the Forest of Fontainebleau.  One painting completed during his stay at Skagen was his moonscape, Moonrise over the Dunes.

Landscape from Meudon, France (1884)

Petersen travelled around Europe, visiting France and Italy during the next couple of years including visiting Venice in 1885 accompanied by Frits Thaulow.  Whilst visiting Paris in 1884 he completed a beautiful landscape work entitled Landscape from Meudon, France which is a depiction of the Seine riverside by the town of Meudon, a municipality in the southwestern suburbs of Paris.

Portrait of Edvard Grieg by Eilif Peterssen (1891)

Peterssen eventually returned to Norway in 1886 and established himself as a skilful portrait artist.

Portrait of Norwegian Author Henrik Ibsen by Eilif Peterssen (1895)

Two well-known Norwegian personalities featured in portraits by Peterssen, the composer Edvard Grieg and the writer Hendrik Ibsen.

Summer Night by Eilif Peterssen (1886)

It was in 1886 that Peterssen completed his most famous work and one which caught my eye and one that made me research into his life and other works.  The oil on canvas painting was entitled Sommernatt (Summer Night), which is housed in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design – The National Gallery, Oslo, came about when Peterssen along with a group of artist friends, including Norwegian painters Christian Skredsvig, Gerhard Munthe, Kitty Kielland, Harriet Backer, and Erik Werenskiold, some of whom he had met whilst a student in Munich stayed at a farmstead in Fleskum, just outside of Oslo which was owned by painter and writer, Christian Skredsvig, who like Peterssen was a pupil at the Eckersberg drawing and paint school in Christiania and a student at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.  In the history of Norwegian art, the Fleskum artists’ colony was a significant breakthrough of plein-air painting in Norway and heralded the arrival of Neo-Romanticism in Norway.   Peterssen’s Summer Night was the most important to come out from that 1886 Fleskum gathering.  As observers we stare down at the still water of the lake during the last light of a summer’s day.  Strangely, there is little shown of the sky, but the reflection of the crescent moon is a reminder of the clear sky above.  Some have suggested at a hint of symbolism with this painting with the contrast between the sturdy upright tree in the right foreground and the dead birch tree, to the left, which has died and rotting, having fallen lifelessly into the lake.  Is this symbolic of life itself, from sturdy youthful growth to inevitable death?

Nocturne by Eilif Peterssen (1887)

The following year, 1887, Peterssen completed his painting Nocturne, which was the same view of the lake as in his Summer Night painting, but this time he has added some flowers, and a nude.

In 1888, six years after his first wife died, Peterssen re-married.  His second wife was Frederikke Magdalene (“Magda”) Kielland, daughter of Lieutenant Commander Jacob Kielland.

Sunshine, Kalvøya by Eilif Peterssen (1891)

Like many painters in the late nineteenth century Peterssen was aware of the work of the French Impressionists.  One of his works which is often likened to Impressionism style, with its broad-brush strokes used to depict the foliage, was his 1891 work entitled Sunshine Kalvøya, which is one he painted whilst he and his wife were on the island of Kalvøya, which lies off the town of Sandvika, about twenty miles west of Oslo.  This is a depiction of Peterssen’s second wife and so the painting is often referred to as Magda Sewing. We see her absorbed in her needlework surrounded by a lush green landscape, lit up by the full summer sun.  It is a veritable depiction of peace, tranquillity, and contentment

From the Norwegian Archipelago by Eilif Peterssen (1894),

One of Peterssen’s favourite haunts was Sele on the west coast of Norway and the views of the many small islands separated by the branchlike Inner Leads which separate the small islands.  His 1894 painting, From the Norwegian Archipelago, depicts a view of these inner leads.  In the right foreground of this exquisite work we see a woman standing amongst the low vegetation.  She is wearing traditional clothes and is busy with her knitting.  She leans back against a low multi-coloured dry-stone wall.  On the other side of the lead we see several red roofed houses and crofts.  A sailing boat in full-sail goes past, navigating the blue waters.

Kveld, Sele (Gedine on a Hillock) by Eilif Peterssen (1896)

Another painting completed by Peterssen in 1896 was set in Sele.  It is entitled Kveld, Sele (Gedine på haugen) – Evening, Sele (Gedine on a Hillock).  The painting takes in the beautiful colours brought on by the setting of the sun at dusk.  In the foreground we see a young girl, Gedine, a friend of Peterssen sitting on a hillock made of large grey stones.  She is lost in contemplation as she gazes out across the flat landscape towards the sea.

On the Look-out by Eilif Peterssen (1889)

A third painting completed by Peterssen and set on Sele which I really like, is his 1889 work entitled On the Look-out.  In the painting we see five men, four lying on the sand and one seated, all gazing seawards, almost certainly trying to catch a glimpse of the returning fishing fleet.

Old House in Normandy by Eilif Peterssen (1896)

Eilif Peterssen, during his lifetime, made several trips to France and Italy. In 1896 he went to Arques-la-Bataille, a small commune in the Seine-Maritime department of Normandy, a few miles south of Dieppe.  It is a beautiful area where three rivers, Eaulne, Varenne and Béthune converge and in close proximity of the Forest of Arques.  It was during his time here that he completed several landscape paintings including Old House in Normandy.

At the start of the twentieth century Peterssen became interested in Symbolism and was influenced by the colourful work of the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Around this time, he completed a number of works focused on French medieval legends. Even during his later life Peterssen continued to travel tirelessly around his own country and even though a few years from his seventieth birthday he was still able to make the long journey to the South of France visiting the small towns of Cagnes and St Paul in Provence.
Hjalmar Eilif Emanuel Peterssen died in Lysaker, a town close to Oslo, on December 29th 1928, aged 76.

Frits Thaulow. Part 2 – the realist landscape painter.

Frits Thaulow at work

Many of Thaulow’s best known Norwegian scenes are from Åsgårdstrand, a town 100 km south of Oslo.  It had become a significant centre for artists and painters from the 1880’s. The town had been home to many internationally famous painter, such as Edvard Munch, Christian Krogh, and Hans Heyerdahl, who had either visited or lived in the town.  Again, like Skagen, the reason it was popular with painters was because of its unique light which the best artists wanted to depict in their works.

Street in Kragerø by Frits Thaulow (1882)

Thaulow visited the Norwegian coastal town of Kragerø which was, and still is, a place where people went to “get away from it all”.  It was a location which the great Norwegian painter Edvard Munch fell in love with, calling it ” Perlen blandt kystbyene (The Pearl of the Coastal Towns). The town of Kragerø is characterized by clear, blue water and beautiful views.

Houses in Kragerø by Frits Thaulow (1882)

However, in one of Thaulow’s paintings of the town, Houses in Kragerø, we see a more realistic depiction of it.  Gone are the blue water and beautiful views and instead we see an everyday view of the backs of the old houses with clothes pegged to a washing line fluttering in a strong breeze.  There is a lack of bright colours, a lack of blue skies, just a simple depiction of an area of the town, “warts and all”.

Haugsfossen ved Modum by Frits Thaulow (1883)

In 1883 after a visit to Blaafarveværket, a cobalt mining and industrial company located at Amort in Modum in the Norwegian county of Buskerud, some thirty miles west of Oslo.  Here there is the spectacular Haugsfossen waterfall and it was here that Thaulow completed his 1883 painting entitled Haugsfossen ved ModumIt is a spectacular painting and once again we witness Thaulow’s great talent when it comes to painting scenes which include stretches of water.  The green tones used for the water when combined with shades of white in contrast to the black rocks allow us to imagine the ferocity of the water has it hurtles down the waterfall, carrying with it fallen logs.

Rialto by Frits Thaulow (1895)

Thaulow travelled to Venice on a number of occasions in the 1890’s and made many sketches and paintings of the city highlighting the city’s canals and architecture and completed many paintings of that city.  In 1892, Thaulow returned once again to France but this time to make it his home.  Originally, he lived in Paris but soon tired of the hustle and bustle and preferred a quieter life in the smaller towns of Dieppe, Montreuil-sur-Mer, Quimperle in Brittany and further south, the town of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.

Back Mills, Montreuil-sur-Mer by Frits Thaulow (1892)

Frits Thaulow had met Claude Monet when he was in Paris and a friendship between the two plein-air painters developed.   Both Thaulow and Monet painted in Normandy with Monet preferring to base himself on the coast and depict the stormy sea and the windswept coastal landscapes whereas Thaulow preferred the tranquillity of painting on quiet rivers.

A Stream in Spring by Frits Thaulow

Thaulow’s weather tends to be calmer which in a way was more in keeping with his temperament. Thaulow said of himself:

“…I am more drawn to the gentle and harmonic than to the vigorous…”

Thaulow had urged Monet to paint in Norway, and the French artist finally acquiesced and travelled there in the winter of 1895, to visit his stepson, Jacques Hoschedé, who lived in Christiania. It proved a disastrous visit because of the severe winter climate with the temperature at minus twenty degrees Celsius when he arrived and because of the amount of snow falling, painting outdoors was a very difficult chore for Monet.  One of the works completed during the visit was Sandvika.  This small town just south-west of Oslo, looks as though it had been done in a blizzard.

Sandvika, Norway by Monet (1895)

It is interesting to note the colours used in the painting – cold blues and lavender whereas Thaulow often used gold and yellow in his winter scenes giving it a slightly warmer feeling.  Maybe Monet just wanted to make sure we knew how cold and uncomfortable it was to paint winter scenes in such conditions whereas Thaulow was more forgiving.

The Akerselven River in the Snow by Frits Thaulow

Despite the adverse conditions, Monet painted twenty-nine Norwegian scenes during his two-month stay and these included at least six views of Sandvika.  It is thought that the iron bridge we see in the foreground may have reminded Monet of the Japanese bridge at his home in Giverny.  Monet never returned to Norway – he had had enough of the cold and inhospitable climate.

Evening in Camiers by Frits Thaulow (1893)

The Normandy coastal village of Camiers, which lies about ten miles south of Boulogne-sur-Mer, was visited by Thaulow in 1893 and that year he completed a painting depicting the village, entitled Evening in Camiers in which we see the sun setting over the dunes and rose-tinted houses caught up in the evening sunlight.

Thaulow the Painter and his Children by Jacques-Emile Blanche (1895)

Through an 1895 painting by Jaques-Emile Blanche we get an insight into Thaulow’s family life.   In the portrait, Thaulow the Painter and his Children, also known as The Thaulow Family, Frits Thaulow appeared with his daughter Else, aged 15 from his first marriage and two of the children from his second marriage, Harold then aged 8 and Ingrid aged 3.  The third child from his second marriage, Christian, was only born that year and does not appear in the work. The painting is housed in the Musée d’Orsay.  Blanche’s portrait was presented at the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1896, was greeted with unanimous critical acclaim, which prompted Blanche to say later that this work was the one that “made him a painter”.

The Adige River at Verona by Frits Thaulow

In the 1890’s Thaulow travelled to various European cities constantly sketching and painting what he observed.  On his trip through northern Italy in 1894, he visited Verona on his way to Venice and completed a painting entitled The Adige River at Verona.  In this work Thaulow used only muted colours and understated tonal harmonies which depict the view of the fast-flowing Adige River as it passes beneath the five arches of the sixteenth century Ponte della Pietra.  In the background, we can see the Duomo of S. Maria Matricolare, and to the right the Sanmicheli’s campanile.

Small town near La Panne by Frits Thaulow (1905)

In the summer of 1905 Frits Thaulow spent some time with his family at La Panne, a small Flemish coastal resort. He had bought himself a small car and with this new-found transport was able to drive himself and his family to small Belgian towns in the area always looking for subjects for his paintings.  One such painting was his 1905 work entitled Small Town Near La Panne.  In the painting, we see small town houses nestled on the river bank and in the mid-ground a small arched bridge.  Thaulow made three versions of this scene all slightly different in the way he depicted the bridge and the houses.

Evening at the Bay of Frogner by Frits Thaulow (1880)

Thaulow received several honours for his artistic work including his appointment as commander of the 2nd Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1905. He received the French Legion of Honour, Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus from Italy and the Order of Nichan Iftikhar from Tunisia.

Johan Frederik “Frits” Thaulow
1847-1906

Thaulow developed diabetes in 1897, a time before insulin had been developed and his condition worsened over the next nine years Thaulow died in Volendam, in the Netherlands on November 5th 1906, aged 59.

Thaulow was a painter working within the framework of Realism, to which he made an original contribution. He forged a friendship with Monet and Rodin and was a valuable connection between Norwegian and French art.

Frits Thaulow. Part 1 – the early days.

Portrait of Frits Thaulow by Christian Krohg

As a painter, I wonder whether you have a favourite motif.  Is there one aspect of your landscape work, maybe the sky, maybe trees, etc., which you feel that you excel at?  If so, do you try and incorporate that feature into many of your paintings?  My artist today seems to be a virtuoso when it came to depictions of water and the reflections on the surface and so many of his paintings include stretches of water.  Let me introduce you to the Norwegian Impressionist landscape painter Johan Frederik Thaulow, better known as “Frits” Thaulow.

An Orchard on the Banks of a River by Frits Thaulow

Johan Frederik Thaulow was born on October 20th, 1847 in the Norwegian capital, Christiania (renamed Oslo in 1925).  He was one of ten children.   His father was Harald Conrad Thaulow, a wealthy pharmacist and his mother was Nicoline (“Nina”) Louise Munch. In order to satisfy his father’s wishes he carried on with his normal school and college studies and eventually attained a doctorate but his real love was for art and specifically maritime art and so, in 1870, aged twenty-three, he went to Copenhagen to try to become a marine painter.

Sailing Ships in the Strait South of Kronborg by Carl Frederik Sorensen (1857)

He enrolled on a two-year course at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen and one of his tutors was Carl Frederik Sørensen, the great Danish marine painter, whose paintings often depicted the relationship between weather and the effect it had on sea conditions.

The Mill Stream by Frits Thaulow

In 1873, Thaulow left Copenhagen and travelled to Karlsruhe where, for two years, he attended the Baden School of Art.  At the time one of the professors lecturing at the academy was the Norwegian Romanticist landscape and marine painter, Hans Fredrik Gude.

Hardanger Fjord by Hans Fredrik Gude

Gude had previously been a professor at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art and through his popularity especially with his fellow countrymen, had built up a sizeable number of Norwegian students.  When he left the Academy to take up a post at the Baden School of Art many followed him.

Landscape and River by Frits Thaulow

In October 1874, Thaulow married Ingeborg Charlotte Gad, whose sister Mette-Sophie Gad had married Paul Gaugin, and a year later the couple had a daughter, Nina, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1886. In September of that same year, Thaulow re-married. His second wife was Alexandra Lasson, the daughter of Carl Lasson, a noted Norwegian attorney.  Alexandra was fifteen years younger than Thaulow.  The couple went on to have three children, two sons and a daughter.    Harald was born a year after the marriage, Ingrid born in 1892 and Christian who was born in 1895.

High Tide, Le Havre (1878) by Frits Thaulow

In 1875, Thaulow departed Karlsruhe and journeyed to Paris where he lived for most of the next four years.  During his time in the French capital he concentrated on his marine and coastal paintings whilst also absorbing the exciting times of the French art scene. The year before his arrival, the Impressionists had held their first exhibition at the former Parisian studio of the photographer Nadar at 35 Boulevard des Capucines   Another influence on Thaulow was the work of the French realist painter, Jules Bastien-Lepage.  Thaulow believed in realism in art and considered that his fellow Norwegian artists should also consider this genre.  Paris had always been popular with aspiring artists and had been fashionable among Norwegian artists. Thaulow became part of a group of Scandinavian landscape painters living in Paris, and worked with the Swedish painter Carl Skanberg, who was famous for his coastal, harbour paintings.

Skagen Painters,1883, Frits Thaulow

In the autumn of 1879 Thaulow left Paris and along with his friend and fellow artist Christian Krohg, a naturalist painter, illustrator, author, and journalist, and then the two arrived at Skagen from Norway in Thaulow’s little boat.  Skagen was situated on the east coast of the Skagen Odde peninsula in the far north of Jutland.  In the late 1870’s until the end of the nineteenth century, Denmark’s Skagen Art Colony became a magnet to numerous artists in the summer months who were drawn to the isolated fishing village and the quality of the light.  The twilight of the early morning and evening was often referred to as the “blue hour” during which the sun is at a sizable depth below the horizon and this is a time when the remaining, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue shade.

A Stream in Spring by Frits Thaulow

The Skagen area also provided beautiful and unspoiled landscapes and seascapes.  The artists were hailed as part of a modern breakthrough movement, which wanted to abandon the academic tradition of neoclassical painting styles which was taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and in its place these artists decided to follow the dictates of realism and naturalism which was part of the ethos of the Barbizon plein-air painters.  They also became followers of the impressionist movements and by doing so, they could portray everyday life and everyday people in an un-idealized way.  It was here that Thaulow’s depictions concentrated on the lives of the fishermen and the boats which had been dragged up onto the shore.

Evening at the Bay of Frogner by Frits Thaulow (1880)

After his stay in Skagen, Thaulow returned to Norway in 1880. He became one of the leading young figures in the Norwegian art scene, together with Christian Krohg and Erik Werenskiold and with them organised the first National Art Exhibit in late 1882, known as the Høstutstillingen or Autumn Exhibition. This first Høstutstillingen was held in Oslo as a radical protest the established bourgeois dominance of the Christiania Art Society and these three organisers decided that they would not let, unlike the Christiania Art Society,  an artist jury to decide what could be included in the exhibition.

Thaulow spent the next twelve years in Norway.  It was a period during which Realist painting based on the French model was accepted in Norway. And Thaulow’s personal interpretation of the Norwegian landscape was generally believed to be new. Although based in Norway he made several trips abroad visiting Scotland and Venice and returning to Paris

View of Overgaden, Christianshavn by Frits Thaulow (1881)

One of my favourite works by Thaulow is one he completed in 1881 entitled View of Overgaden, Christianshavn.  Christianshaven is a district of Copenhagen and the Christianhaven Canal bisects the neighbourhood.  Christianshavns Kanal is now noted for its bustling sailing community with numerous houseboats and sailboats, particularly in the northern half of the canal.  Overgaden oven Vandet and Overgaden neden Vandet are the two streets running along each side of the waterway.  Beside Thaulow’s masterful depiction of the water, look at the detailed portrayal of the buildings and cobbled walkways.

………………………………………….. to be continued.

Thorolf Holmboe

Thorolf Holmboe
Thorolf Holmboe

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 Holmboe (Norwegian, 1866-1935), Landscape in Moonlight with a House, by Thorolf Holmboe (1914) Oil on canvas, (120 x 80 cms).
Landscape in Moonlight with a House, by Thorolf Holmboe (1914)
Oil on canvas,
(120 x 80 cms).

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.

Still life by Thorolf Holmboe (1907)
Still life by Thorolf Holmboe (1907)

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.

Fishing Village, Lofoten by Thorolf Holmboe
Fishing Village, Lofoten by Thorolf Holmboe

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 .

Nordic Landscape (Nordlandsmotiv) by Thorolf Holmboe
Nordic Landscape (Nordlandsmotiv) by Thorolf Holmboe

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.

The Journey by Thorolf Holmboe
The Journey by Thorolf Holmboe

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.

Thorolf Holmboe "Polar bear on Ice" design for Porsgrund porcelain vase
Thorolf Holmboe “Polar bear on Ice” design for Porsgrund porcelain vase

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).

Marine painting by Thorolf Holmboe
Marine painting by Thorolf Holmboe

Many of Holmbloe’s paintings featured seabirds, rocky cliffs and the rough coastal waters

Fra Akerselven (From Akerselven) by Thorolf Holmboe
Fra Akerselven (From Akerselven) by Thorolf Holmboe

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.

Utsikt over Akerselven by Thorolf Holmboe (1903)
Utsikt over Akerselven by Thorolf Holmboe (1903)

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.

Illustration to The Trumpet of Nordland
Illustration to The Trumpet of Nordland

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.

Hekkende skarv (Nesting Cormorants) by Thorolf Holmbloe
Hekkende skarv (Nesting Cormorants) by Thorolf Holmbloe

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).

Peonies in a Vase by Thorolf Holmboe
Peonies in a Vase by Thorolf Holmboe

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.

Peder Balke. Part 2 – The great Norwegian journey and disillusionment

Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl  (1827)
Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, by Johan Christian Dahl (1827)

Balke returned to Christiania in 1830 and stayed with Professor Rathke and in that May travelled to Copenhagen and was fortunate to be able to view royal collections of art.  Of all the works he saw, Balke was most impressed by a winter landscape painted by Johan Christian Dahl, entitled Winter Landscape. Near Vordingborg, which he completed in 1827.  The large (173 x 205cms) work of art depicts a somewhat oppressive atmosphere with its undertones of death, symbolised by the dolmen behind the lifeless branches of the two oak trees. A dolmen is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of two or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone.  Nature is depicted in the form of its icy winter garb.  He wrote of the painting to Rathke saying that it was the most life-like painting he had ever seen.  The fact that he had managed to see the works of the great Masters at the royal collection, although influencing him, also depressed him somewhat as to his own ability.  He wrote:

“…I sometimes felt a certain heaviness of heart and lack of courage when I compared my own insignificance with these true masterpieces; quietly and I admit somewhat superficially I calculated how much I would have to learn and how many ordeals I would have to go through before I would be able to achieve a mere fraction of the perfection in aptitude and skill in execution exuded by these paintings…”

North Cape by Peder Balke (1945)
North Cape by Peder Balke (1945)

Balke was determined to succeed and in the summer of 1830 having returned to Norway from Copenhagen he set off on foot on an artistic journey through the Telemark region and over the mountains to western Norway and then north to Bergen returning to Christiania via the Naeroydalen valley and the town of Gudvangen.  He later recalled his short time spent in the area around Gudvangen, writing:

“.. I first arrived late at night, because I became so engrossed in admiring the sublime beauty of Naeroydalen that I hardly knew whether what surrounded me was real or supernatural.  So fascinating and uplifting did my youthful imagination, with its passion for the beauties of nature….”

From North Cape by Peder Balke (c.1860's)
From North Cape by Peder Balke (c.1860’s)

Two years later, in April 1832, Balke set off another artistic journey.  This time, setting off in his own carriage he went to Trondheim where he was to catch a boat to the north of the country.  His planned journey hit a snag when he arrived late in Trondheim and missed the boat.  He had to wait a further seven weeks for the next boat but spent the time sketching the town and the surrounding areas.  Peder Balke finally embarked on his northbound boat trip, passing the Lofoten Islands and arrived at Tromso.  From there the boat went further north to Hammerfest and then proceeded around the North Cape to Vardø and Vadsø.  He was the first Norwegian painter to record the harsh beauty of the northern landscape.  Eventually Balke and the boat returned to Trondheim.  During the long journey Balke had completed a large collection of sketches of the places he had seen and many were used in his many seascape and moonscape works of art which he worked on when he returned to Stockholm.  He sold many of his paintings to wealthy Norwegians and Swedes as well as members of the royal family.  In 1834, now, financially secure, Peder married Karen Eriksdatter, the woman he had been secretly engaged to for several years, but had been too poor to marry.

The Severn Sisters by Peder Balke (1847)
The Severn Sisters by Peder Balke (1847)

The couple settled in Christiania and Balke, now accepted, not simply as a decorator but as a landscape artist, tried to establish himself and sell his artworks.  However competition at the time was too great and the sales he had hoped for never materialised.  However, in 1835, he managed to sell another of his works to the king and with that money he decided on fulfilling his dream of travelling to Dresden and work with the Norwegian artist, J C Dahl.   Many Norwegian artists had trodden this path, including Thomas Fearnley (see My Daily Art Display November 24th & 28th 2012).  With help from a friend, Balke set off for Germany and reached Berlin in the winter of that year.  He remained in Berlin for several weeks and was able to visit the Royal Museum and whilst in the German city he saw paintings by the German romantic landscape painter, Casper David Friedrich.  It was this artist who was going to have a great and lasting influence on Balke.

Ship in Breaking Waves by Peder Balke (c.1849)
Ship in Breaking Waves by Peder Balke (c.1849)

Balke left Berlin and travelled to Dresden via Leipzig.  He received a great welcome from Johan Dahl who helped him find accommodation.  J C Dahl introduced Balke to Casper David Friedrich and Balke was able to watch the two great artists at work.  In a letter to Rathke, dated March 29th 1836, he wrote about watching J C Dahl at work:

“..to see Dahl paint, I know with which colours and have seen how he uses them, and though I at present cannot proceed successfully in the same manner I hope that with time I will also reap the benefit.  What I regret most is my lack of studies from nature.  Dahl certainly has several thousands of them, of all kinds.  He has told me there is no other way to become a real painter than by painting from nature, which admittedly has been my intention, and I shall now try to see whether I can make up for what I have hitherto neglected, in Norway, though not in Germany – there is no nature here…”

Sami with Reindeer Under the Midnight Sun by Peder Balke, (c.1850)
Sami with Reindeer Under the Midnight Sun by Peder Balke, (c.1850)

Balke left Dresden but returned in the 1840’s to work once again with J C Dahl.  Landscape art was popular in Norway and Balke managed to sell many of his works but things were to change when a number of young Norwegian landscape artists having returned from studying at the Dusseldorf Academy, which at the time was looked upon as the most modern art-educational institute.  The teaching of landscape art was more to do with what was termed “cautious Realism” rather than Balke’s Romantic landscapes which suddenly became less fashionable.  He had to endure much criticism with regards his work which had once been loved by his people.  In an article in a 1944 edition of Morgenbladet, the eminent art critic Emil Tidemand scathingly wrote about Balke’s paintings:

“… There is no question here of a grandiose, poetic perception: no not even the simplest technical demands of drawing, perspective, clarity, strength and depth of colour have been met……………….This is not a representation of nature – his whole production is merely the mark of a dirty palette handled without discrimination…”

Old Trees by Peder Balke (c.1849)
Old Trees by Peder Balke (c.1849)

Maybe it was the vitriolic criticism which made Balke realise that there would be no hope of becoming financially secure through his art sales in Norway and so in 1844 he, along with his pregnant wife and three young children, left their homeland and travelled to Paris via Copenhagen and Germany  There was also another reason to visit Paris and this was that Balke was well aware that the country’s ruler Louis-Philippe had, as a young prince in exile in 1795, travelled along the Norwegian coast from Trondheim to the North Cape just as he had done.  As Balke did not speak French he asked a friend to write a letter on his behalf to the king in which he reminded the king of his exile and his Norwegian journey and that his nine sketches of the area would remind the king of that journey.  Louis-Philippe was intrigued and summoned Balke to the palace.  Balke and the king immediately became close and the two would meet regularly and reminisce about their travels to the North Cape

A View of the Sarpsfoss Waterfalls, Norway by Peder Balke (c.1859)
A View of the Sarpsfoss Waterfalls, Norway by Peder Balke (c.1859)

Louis-Philippe commissioned a set of paintings derived from the sketches.  Balke’s financial future seemed to have been rescued and he set to work on the commission.  Alas fate was to take a hand in the form of the February Revolution of 1848 which saw the downfall of Louis-Philippe.  Balke realising the dangers of being close to the unpopular ruler decided in late 1847 that he and his family would have to hurriedly leave Paris which meant he had to abandon, what was to have been a very lucrative commission.  Balke moved back to Dresden.  Shortly after his arrival in the German city in 1848 his young son Johann died.  His death came around the same time that his wife gave birth to their daughter Frederikke.  Sales of his art in Dresden were hard to come by and so he decided to leave his family with a friend and head back to Christiania.  He managed to sell some of his work, one of which was The North Cape by Moonlight but still the Norwegian people favoured the Dusseldorf School of landscape painting and so Balke returned to his family in Dresden.  In the Spring of 1849 he and his family moved to London where Balke believed his art would be more appreciated.  London had fallen under the spell of Joseph Mallord William Turner and his marine paintings and so Balke believed his works of art would do well.  He was proved right and managed to sell more of his works of art.

Balkeby  1860-70
Balkeby
1860-70

In the autumn of 1850 Balke and his family moved back to Christiania.  In 1855 his good friend and benefactor Professor Rathke died and left Balke a sizeable amount of money which Balke used to buy eight acres of land just outside the city limits at a place known as Vestre Aker.  He virtually abandoned his career as an artist of large scale landscape works, concentrating on small scale paintings which he believed would be bought by the middle class.  He now concentrated on his property portfolio and in particular the development of housing for workers in his newly attained property in the suburb of Balkeby, He dabbled in local politics championing the cause of pensions for men and women, and also of grants for artists. His painting was now just a hobby and for his own pleasure.

The Old Bridge by Peder Balke (c.1869)
The Old Bridge by Peder Balke (c.1869)

Balke, as you may realise, was an unlucky man and more bad luck came in June 1879 when his beloved Balkeby went up in flames.  Nearly every house, including his own, was burnt to the ground.  Four years later Balke suffered a stroke, and he died in Christiania on February 15th 1887 aged 82.  The obituaries that followed after his death were all about his political work and little was said about Balke the artist.  Maybe his penchant for ignoring criticism and sticking to what he believed in was apparent in the obituary which appeared in the magazine Verdens Gang in March 1887.  It emphasised Balke’s pugnacity:

“…Fearless and straightforward as he was, it would never occur to him to defer to people in an argument.  He considered only the matter in hand and did not bother in the least about who was for or against him.  This does not always result in popularity…”

I can recommend an excellent book about the artist and his work entitled Paintings by Peder Balke, from which I derived most of my information about this Norwegian painter.