Although we explored a number of Oslo Norway’s many museums, we barely scratched the surface of its artistic and historical treasures. The following are what we leared from those museums that we did visit, beginning with art museums (and in the case of Gustav Vigeland, a sculpture park). This is followed by a discussion of history museums.
National Gallery has a particularly impressive collection of 19th century Norwegian Masters, and especially those of Edvard Munch, including one of the two publicly shown original oils of his iconic, The Scream. Large numbers of works by other Norwegian masters, including J.C. Dahl, Harriet Backer and Christian Krohg are also shown. See our post on the Bergen Art Museum, and our post on the Edvard Munch Museum for more detailed discussions of the artists’ work and their influence.
The well-organized museum begins with a chronological display of mainland European art—beginning with Greco-Roman antiquities, to real and then idealized replicas of gods and the human body in the Renaissance, to religious art, 16th century dramatic art and displays of “Old Masters” (primarily 15th through 18th century Dutch, Italian and Spanish), 18th century (especially French) romantic landscapes.
From this point, the primary focus of the exhibit turned to Norwegian and other Scandinavian art, with works by J.C. Dahl (the “Father of Norwegian Landscapes”, generally from the late 18th through mid-19th centuries) and his successors, such as Thomas Fearnley. It then showed how a generation of Norwegian painters (most notably Harriet Backer, Eric Warenskroid and Christian Krohg) were influenced first by study in Germany (since there were no real Norwegian painting schools at that time), as with a movement to warmer colors and finer, more disciplined brushstrokes, and then by French Impressionism and a growing focus on exposing social problems, and especially the social traumas of poverty.
Edvard Munch, who was certainly by these schools (especially Impressionism), took his art in new directions, with his pioneering of northern Modernism, with clear, undulating lines and contrasting colors and his dark, early themes of illness, loneliness, alienation, death and a deep skepticism and distrust of women (despite the fact that it was his aunt and his sister that financially supported him through almost half of his career). The mood of his work shifted dramatically in 1908, after he suffered a nervous breakdown and admitted himself for about 9 months of therapy. After that, as discussed and shone in the Bergen Museum post, the themes of his work lighted, becoming almost optimistic and life-affirming.
By the early 20th century, Norwegian artists including Nikolai Astrup and Ludwig Karstens had begun adopting Matisse’s Fauvist techniques and palettes and then others, like Axel Revold and Per Deberitz, Max Pechstein and others began following Picasso, Braque and other cubists.
The museum also had a special exhibit, “Japanomania” (no photos permitted), that examined the impact that Japanese art had on Western art in general and Nordic art in particular in the late 19th and early 20th century, after Commodore Perry opened the Japanese market to the west. While Japanese sensibilities, techniques, decorative qualities and depictions of nature influenced and were integrated into virtually all of the fine and decorative arts, the craze was especially prominent in French Impressionist paintings and prints.
Although it took another ten years (from about 1880 to 1890) for this trend to reach Scandinavia, it had almost as pronounced an impact as in France. Artists including Christian and Oda Krohg, Harriet Backer, Anders Zorn and others began incorporating Japanese styles and themes into their paintings and even began to produce Japanese-style scrolls, pottery. Munch and Astrup, in particular, adapted some aspects of traditional woodblock print making to their own printmaking processes. These and other artists experimented with Japanese designs and colors, represented Japanese fashions and even began to rethink traditional landscape subjects and approaches to landscape composition. Although “Japonism” may not have had as profound or long-lasting an impact on Nordic art as did Impressionism, it certainly attracted a lot of attention.