A Distinct North Norwegian Style of Painting?
Until well into the nineteenth century, many people smiled at such a claim, because as in many other fields, North Norwegian painting was underestimated and set aside from the rest of the country. In 1827, Governor Blom travelled round in North Norway and was shocked by how unsightly the countryside was:
”Helgeland is the district most devoid of natural beauty in Nordland, with the exception of Lofoten, where thoughts of natural beauty cannot occur except as something deeply missed. Lofoten is as devoid of natural beauty as is at all possible.” North Norway was ugly, and ugliest was Lofoten. Blom more or less warned artists not to travel north.
But not only was the countryside unsightly, the Northerners as a people were given hell, too. Rector Erik Colban, who served in Lofoten, wrote in 1814 that not only was the climate poor, the people, too, were extremely primitive and lazy. He explained this by claiming that they had a completely different blood type to people in the south, it was thicker, making people move slower and “drag their feet behind them.” They were a drunken lot, too, he added: “Thick blood and viscous fluids cannot be made to move without spirituous drink.”
This point of view prevailed for a long time, but in the summer of 1869, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson travelled north. Bjørnson depicts North Norway not only as beautiful, but as more beautiful than anything else. One has not seen true nature before one has been in North Norway, and most beautiful of all is Lofoten, he wrote.
The Norwegian painter first to discover North Norway, was Peder Balke. In 1832 he travelled along the coast up to the North Cape, but his paintings, which today are considered among the best of Norwegian art, were not very popular. A breakthrough did not occur until Otto Sinding (1842-1909) went to Lofoten to paint. His paintings gained considerable esteem, not least abroad, and were a source of inspiration to many other artists. Gunnar Berg(1863-1893) from Svolvær was a friend of Otto Sinding, and became the first Northerner to make his mark on a national level. Today, Berg is considered North Norway’s greatest painter, but he keeps excellent company in that respect, with celebrated North Norwegian artists like Even Ulving (1863-1952), Thorolf Holmboe (1866-1935), Adelsteen Normann (1848-1918) and Ole Juul (1852-1927). Theodor Kittelsen was from the South, but some of his best works depicted Lofoten and Røst, where he lived from 1887 to late 1888.
The inter-war years marked a new era of pictorial art in Lofoten. Axel Revold (1887-1962), who spent much of his youth in Narvik, often visited Lofoten. As did the German artist Rolv Nesch (1893-1975) and the Sámi artist John Savio (1902-1938). Swedish artist Anna Boberg was so enthusiastic about Lofoten that she had her own house built in Svolvær. This house marked the start of what is today known as the North Norwegian Artists’ Centre on the island of Svinøya in Svolvær.
Among other well-known artists who have found inspiration in Lofoten, Kaare Espolin Johnsen and Karl Erik Harr deserve special mention.
Today, a large number of artists live and work in Lofoten. The North Norwegian Artists’ Centre has been established on the island of Svinøya in Svolvær, and regularly arranges exhibitions. There is also a wide range of private galleries in Lofoten.