Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Forget about Munch - Peder Balke was a truly visionary Norwegian artist

I know your pulse probably won’t start to race when I tell you that the National Gallery currently features an exhibition of fifty-seven 19th Century Norwegian and Swiss landscapes, all from the private collection of the American collector, Asbjørn Lunde (who’s probably called “Chuck” by his mates). 

The show (the Telegraph has a slide show of ten of the paintings) is on until the 18th September and it’s free and I’ll be popping along next week - mainly because it features works by Peder Balke, a Norwegian artist whose work I was unaware of until I saw several of his paintings at the Norwegian National Gallery in Oslo about five years ago (I’d gone AWOL from a conference). 

Balke’s pictures of the coast of North Norway stunned me that day mainly because they were so original and odd and haunting, but also because they seemed so ahead of their time. Despite all appearances to the country - the restricted colour palette, the semi-abstract quality of the images, the tinges of Impressionism, Expressionism, Caspar Friedrich-style Romanticism, and a touch of Turner (whose work it’s unlikely Balke had ever seen) - the paintings reproduced on this page were all done between 1855 and 1870.

         Storm over Vardøhus Fortress
Balke grew up in a poor farming community. The locals paid for his education, and he repaid them by decorating many of their farms, and by creating decent housing for the poor in later life. Sadly, he was pretty much forgotten by the end of the 19th Century, but, while not exactly a household name abroad, his reputation grew markedly during the 20th Century, and his genius is now generally recognised by the art establishment (well, the bits of it that are interested in 19th Century paintings by obscure white men). The Louvre has several of his pictures and the National Gallery here in London bought their first Balke in 2010.

                                                                                  Northern Lights
There’s a short article about Balke here, and a nice YouTube tribute to himhere, and all 19 of his paintings owned by Norway’s National Gallery can be found at the DigitaltMuseum site.

I’ll finish with a real stunner:
                                                                                       Lighthouse on the North Norway Coast

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