Lofoten in Paintings
The first travelers to Lofoten were not particularly impressed by the area's beauty. District Governor G.P. Blom traveled throughout northern Norway in 1827. He was noted for having said
"Lofoten is so bare of beauty as possibly can be. The sheer cliffs plunge downward into the sea and seldom make room for a single house."In another passage he writes:
"There can be no question about which of these places may be called the most beautiful; on the contrary, it is a matter of which is the most repulsive…".Blom's feelings were similar to many others who visited Lofoten during this period.
Nature, however, came to be regarded differently when Romanticism bloomed in Norway during the mid-1800s. What had once been looked upon as hideous now became beautiful, sublime and exotic. Traversing through northern Norway, the steamships, too, began sailing along a greater number of routes, making it easier for travelers to get around. Little by little, the northern regions, and especially Lofoten, were "discovered". And the midnight sun, which once had been looked upon as bothersome, and something which made it difficult for tourists to sleep by, had now become an attraction. "The land of the midnight sun" was rapidly becoming a tourist magnet.
As a painter, poet and theater instructor, Otto Sinding (1842-1909) was a manifold artist. He wandered restlessly throughout Europe, and had been in Lofoten several times to paint. His most renown painting with a northern Norwegian motif is "Fra Reine i Lofoten" (From Reine, in Lofoten), painted in the winter of 1883.
Adelsteen Normann (1848-1918) was the first northern Norwegian who successfully became a painter. As many of his contemporaries, Normann was educated in Düsseldorf, in Germany. He settled in Germany, later in life, but traveled throughout northern Norway, and frequently in Lofoten, to paint. His specialty was romantic fjord landscapes. In these he often portrayed small steamships or sailboats sailing on calm seas. His landscapes, too, were often products of his imagination. Light played a major role in Normann's paintings, and he was one of the first Norwegian artists who "discovered" the midnight sun as a motif.
Gunnar Berg (1863-1893), from Svolvær, in Lofoten, interrupted his mercantile studies to become a painter. He was advised by his friend, Adelsteen Normann, to begin studies at the art academy in Düsseldorf. And from 1883 until his death, Gunnar Berg studied and worked in Düsseldorf and Berlin. During the summertime, and the Lofoten fishing season, Berg was at home in Svolvær. With great enthusiasm he painted his hometown from all its nooks and crannies. Homes, boats, fishermen, mountains and the sea, in summer or winter, comprised the basic themes of his pictures. He loved the Nordland boats, too, which are small boats with beautiful shapes; these "sailing sculptures" he never tired of painting.
Theodor Kittelsen is mostly remembered for his illustrations of Norwegian fairytales. This also characterizes the pictures of his 1887-1889 trip to Lofoten.
Another eminent Norwegian artist, Christian Krohg (1852-1925), arrived in Lofoten in 1896. While approaching Svolvær on a steamship, as the fog broke, he wrote:
"The summits of the razor-sharp mountains finally appeared in silhouette against the deep blue sky, and the fog suddenly lifted. There is no denying it - this was simply spectacular: it was the grandest and most unspoiled, chilling, unsullied, sight imaginable. The mountains were altars raised for the god of loneliness and built in praise of purity's divine chasteness. How difficult, difficult it must be to paint this: to summon forth loftiness, majesty and the relentless "tranquility and indifference of nature! But it can be done, and the task is colossal."
Krohg did not paint many pictures from Lofoten, but his "Lofotbrev" (Letter from Lofoten) and "Begravelse i Nordland" (A Nordland Funeral) are, on the other hand, highly acclaimed far and wide. During the clash of painting styles in Norwegian art of the 1890s, Krohg was a strong advocate of realism. He tackled his subjects as a portrait photographer might have, and made frequent use of bolder approaches than his predecessors.
Artists such as Axel Revold and Christian Krohg's son, Per Krohg, have painted beautiful Lofoten motifs in the 20th-century. Lofoten has also been given a more modern manifestation by Rolf Nesch - an artist of German origin.
© University Library of Tromsø - 1999.
The Northern Lights Route is part of The Council of Europe Cultural Routes. The Cultural Routes are an invitation to Europeans to wander the paths and explore the places where the unity and diversity of our European identity were forged.