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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 !!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.