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Chapter VIII
The Norwegian Section
Rooms Nos. 11 to 16, Inclusive

We are indebted to the article on "Modern Norwegian Art," in the edition de luxe of the official catalogue, written by J Nilsen Laurvik, Commissioner of Fine Arts of Norway, for the material drawn upon in this article.

"Modern Norwegian Art," says Mr. Laurvik, "is of comparatively recent origin and coincides in its development with that of Hungary and America. Prior to 1814—the year of the modern Norwegian Constitution—we had no artistic traditions whatever, and those that we have acquired since then have been imported from Dusseldorf, Munich and Paris, very much as have the artistic traditions of America and Hungary. However, in the case of Norway, as well as Hungary, we have to reckon with a very important factor in their artistic evolution, especially potent in the development of their modern art, which is altogether applicable in the art of America, namely: their peasant art. Long before the art of painting was practiced in Norway, the Norwegian peasant, like his Magyar contemporary, had developed an art that was, and still remains, thoroughly national. The Norwegian peasant art, like that of other countries, is characterized by a primitive purity of color that anticipates the art of today, and forms, so to speak, the connecting link that ties the present to the past. If we remember the crude vigor and bold color of this early peasant art we shall perhaps better understand contemporary Norwegian art.

The critic then proceeds to trace the history of modern Norwegian art from its origins in Dresden and Dusseldorf. Johan Christian Dahl is styled "The Father of Norwegian Painting." He taught in the Academy at Dresden, his presence attracting many Norwegian artists, who absorbed not only his technical methods but also his love for the grandiose scenery of Norway. The dissolution of the union with Denmark in 1814 let loose impulses of national pride which brought into the art of Norway the interest which the painters of that period felt in their own national types, especially the peasants. Men like Tidemand and Gude were leaders in this movement. This was followed by the intense interest with which the younger men followed the epoch-making work of Gustave Courbet, Manet, and Monet. Paris attracted not only the painters of the commanding ability of Thaulow, Christian Krohg, but also the writers of the period, pre-eminently Björnson. The tremendous stimulation of Ibsen was also a potent influence in this fresh surge of an art directly related to throbbing human life. The battles raging in Paris were refought in the capital of Norway, Christiania, by Krohg, the social narrator; Thaulow, the painter of snow and running water; Werenskiold, the portrait painter, and Munthe, "the Norwegian landscape painter par excellence." Such men as Edvard Diriks, Halfdan Ström and Thorolf Holmboe continued this modern movement vigorously. Standing aloof from the naturalistic movement, the romantic figure of Harold Sohlberg appeared, rendering with great power and beautiful poetry aspects of Northern scenery which while deeply Norwegian are yet universal in their appeal.

Mr. Laurvik thcn proceeds to deal with the more prominent figures in the contemporary art of Norway, notably, Henrik Lund and Ludwig Karsten, together with Soren Onsager, and Pola Gauguin, a son of the great French master of decoration. Lund and Karsten are popularizers of the influence of a greater man, Edvard Munch, of whom Mr. Laurvik writes: "He is the father of the present movement in Norwegian art which claims the allegiance of the ablest and most promising of our younger painters. His independence has given others courage to be themselves. As a revolutionary, original and disturbing force he occupies in Norwegian art a position akin to that occupied by Ibsen in Norwegian literature, and he has met with a somewhat similar reception in his own country. Accepted and acknowledged abroad as one of the greatest artists of modern times, he is rejected and despised at home by the majority of his own countrymen, who can see nothing but madness and perversity in his masterly revelation of the pyschic verities of the soul. Gifted beyond all others with a rare color sense and an instinctive feeling for design, he has enriched Norwegian art with a series of masterpieces that will some day be claimed by the world and which have already borne fruit in the richer, more resonant palette of the younger generation. That he has the root of the matter in him is clearly shown by the fact that his disciples are even now meeting with acceptance."

Rooms Nos. 11 and 12

These galleries contain a large and exceedingly interesting collection of Norwegian prints, of various kinds. The great feature is, of course, the Edvard Munch lithographs in Gallery No. 12. These constitute one of the most stirring exhibits in the Palace of Fine Arts. An almost uncanny dramatic power is expressed in many of these powerful pictures. If Munch had no other claim upon fame than these very original and highly individualized productions he would still be recognized as a great artist.

Room No. 113

This gallery might be characterized as representative of the contemporary romantic school of Norwegian art. The principal names are those of Sohlberg, Sigmund Sinding and Johannes Müller. The wonderful "Winter Night in Mountains," by Sohlberg, is a veritable masterpiece. It expresses with a poetry that is as powerful as Milton the romance and mystery of the Midwinter Northern Night.

Room No. 14

The work contained in this room is predominantly of the modern, realistic school, although not the latest developments. Christian Krohg, Halfdan Ström, Diriks, and Thorold Holmbloc are the outstanding names.

Room No. 15

The great name of Fritz Thaulow dominates the interest of this gallery. The exceptional beauty and truth of the exquisite little snow scene entitled "Park Bench in Winter" is a permanent record of the great influence of Thaulow, who was one of the first to see the paintable beauty of winter, and who opened a path since trodden by countless imitators. Thaulow, however, far from exhausts the interests of this gallery. The series of portraits by Henrik Lund is of a very great interest. There are also two decorative panels carved in wood by Dagfin Werenskiold, which fittingly illustrate the passage quoted above from Mr. Laurvik in which he refers to this artist as the one who has brought back Norwegian art to its origin in the art of the peasant.

Room No. 16

Here you find the very debatable work of Edvard Munch. Surely, however, there can be no question as to the marvelous beauty and mystical poetry of the "Summer Night in Aasgaardstrand." It is, in a way, a companion picture to Sohlberg's Winter Nocturn. This is a summer midnight. Upon a bridge over a still, dark yet luminous pool, with a group of houses and trees solidly indicated in the background, a group of young girls are standing. The transcendently skillful manner in which the picture expresses the strange quality of the mingled brightness and dusk of the springtime midnight defies analysis. The picture fairly throbs with vital thoughts. The tides of spring which are flowing and pulsating in this strange scene are rendered with a power comparable to the effect of music.

There is a comprehensive group of the works of Arne Kavli, and also two very interesting pictures by Sören Onsager.

Sculpures and Medalions

Disposed through several of the Norwegian galleries will be found a large number of sculptures and medallions by Hans St. Lerche. Quite a number of these are studies of the three last Popes, Leo XIII, Pius X and Benedict XV. St. Lerche bas lived in Rome for a great many years and these vivid and beautiful little statuettes were done from studies from the life.

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