Thursday, 14 February 2019

Christian Krohg, a great Norwegian realist painter who should be better known

If you want a self-portrait of an artist with a stonking hangover, ask a Norwegian...
Similarly, if you fancy a painting of fishermen in action...

A sick child?

An exhausted mother?

I've always been slightly annoyed by the adulation accorded to Edvard Munch, whose undoubtedly striking art has always struck me as excessively morbid, when there are other fine - albeit less original or revolutionary - Norwegian artists who deserve a critical look-in. Peder Balke (1804-1887), whose mysterious, threatening shorescapes (which I wrote about here) are as psychologically unsettling as anything produced by Munch, is one. The robustly realist painter Christian Krohg (1852-1925) is another. 
Ivan Wolkof with his balalaika
It's not that Krohg is forgotten in his own country - there's a dirty great statue of him in Karl Johans gate in Oslo - it's just that he's practically unknown outside Norway. Given his now unfashionable naturalist style, it's liable to remain that way, which is a shame. I don't think Krohg was a towering genius, but there's a vigour, strength, humour, tenderness and humanity to his work - an engagement with real life - whether his subjects are prostitutes, seafaring folk, mothers with their children, errand boys or hungover artists, which makes his paintings memorable:

Krohg, born into a middle class family in what is now part of Oslo, became a qualified lawyer to please his father, while simultaneously studying art. His father died the year Krohg became a law graduate, and Krohg went on  to study art in Berlin, and made his living as an artist in Paris for two years. He wrote a novel about prostitution, which created a scandal and was confiscated by the police (his paintings of prostitutes from a social issue point of view - they're totally untitillating - were among his best known), worked as a journalist on an Oslo newspaper for 20 years, and was associated with the journal Politiken for two years. He taught art in Paris for seven years until 1909, returning home to become professor and director of the Norwegian Academy of Arts. A busy old life, which included marriage to the artist Oda Krohg:

I'll end with a random selection of other paintings by the great man, starting with this self-portrait, in which he wields a truly impressive  pipe!:


  1. Nice to see such a gifted artist whose paintings don't have to be described by sentences with the word 'angst'in them.
    The Scream has got a lot to answer for.

  2. I like the ones of the seafaring men.