Norwegian painters heading south to Germany

When I received a greetings card with a detail from a painting by Hans Gude (1825-1903), I was interested to read on the back that he was born in Oslo but lived much of his adult life in Germany, working as a professor of landscape painting in Düsseldorf, Karlsruhe and Berlin. Further research led to the discovery that he was one of a number of Norwegian painters to study in Germany and indeed one of several who settled there but who made regular trips back to Norway for inspiration. This blog post will highlight a few of these across the generations.

Vinterettermiddag (Winter afternoon), the painting on the card, picture via Wikimedia Commons

Although a national college of art and design was established in Norway in 1818, the country did not gain a national academy of fine arts until 1909. This may perhaps explain the impetus for Gude to head to Düsseldorf while still a teenager. The continuing lack of an art school at home led to him teaching in Germany with a steady flow of young Norwegian artists keen to be taught by him in both Düsseldorf and Karlsruhe. By the time he moved to Berlin in 1880 fewer Norwegian students followed him there as Paris was then deemed to be the fashionable place for art.

Between leaving Düsseldorf and starting at Karlsruhe Gude spent some time in North Wales, finding more inspiration in the beautiful scenery there for his characteristic landscape painting. Here are two examples (please click on each image to see enlarged):

The University Library has a well-illustrated 2015 biography of Hans Gude: Hans Gude: en kunstnerreise by Nicolai Strøm-Olsen (C212.c.3103). Further colour reproductions of his works can be found in the earlier Hans Gude by Frode Haverkamp (S405:45.b.9.438).

A famous Norwegian painting hanging in the new National Museum in Oslo (opened in summer 2022) is Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord which was created by Gude in collaboration with a fellow Norwegian artist, Adolph Tidemand (1814-1876) – Gude painted the landscape while Tidemand painted the figures.

Bridal procession on the Hardangerfjord, picture via Wikimedia Commons

A little older than Gude, Tidemand had studied first at the prestigious Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen before moving on and continuing his studies in Düsseldorf. He settled there but trips back home allowed him to faithfully depict Norwegian life and he became particularly known for his paintings of the rural life of peasants and of the traditional folk costumes. We have an illustrated biography of Tidemand: Adolph Tidemand og hans tid by Jan Askeland (S405:45.b.9.389).

A generation earlier the influential Norwegian landscape painter, Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857) had also made the journey to Copenhagen to study, but then travelled to Dresden when he was thirty. Through his friendship with the important German painter Caspar David Friedrich he became an established figure in Dresden artistic life. The countryside around Dresden gave him inspiration for landscape paintings but he missed the more dramatic mountainous landscape of Norway and created some scenes from his imagination. It was eight years before he returned to Norway for real inspiration; thereafter he went back every few years but remained living in Dresden until his death.

Reflecting his links with Friedrich and also his importance, the University Library has more books on Dahl than on other Norwegian artists. These include a three-volume life and works (405:45.b.95.44-46) and catalogues of exhibitions held in 2002: Johan Christian Dahl, der Freund Caspar David Friedrichs (S405:45.a.200.19) and 1988: Johan Christian Dahl 1788-1857: ein Malerfreund Caspar David Friedrichs (S405:45.b.9.327

Dahl and Friedrich have inevitably also been the subjects of joint exhibitions, most recently in 2014 in a major venture between museums in Oslo and Dresden. The catalogue for this is Dahl und Friedrich: romantische Landschaften (S950.b.201.2144).

A perhaps lesser known Norwegian artist is Adelsteen Normann (1848-1918).  He followed in the footsteps of Gude and Tidemand, studying in Düsseldorf. Later he moved to Berlin. He would have been there at the same time as Gude so the two most likely knew each other. Normann went back to Norway every summer and specialised in painting the Norwegian fjords. Indeed it has been suggested that his paintings helped to popularise the fjords as a tourist destination, and Balestrand on the Sognefjord, where he had a villa, was one of the most visited places among early travellers to Norway. He also painted in the more northerly Lofoten islands and one of these paintings is featured on the cover of Adelsteen Normann: fra Bodø til Berlin by Anne Aaserud (S950.a.201.2515).

Normann was an important link between the Norwegian romantic landscape painters and modernism as he was instrumental in bringing Edvard Munch to greater attention, inviting him to Berlin in the 1890s where he stayed for several years.

Katharine Dicks

Further reading

  • Nordic landscape painting: in the nineteenth century by Torsten Gunnarsson (S405:82.a.9.38)
  • A mirror of nature: Nordic landscape painting, 1840-1910 (S950.a.200.1667)
  • Norges billedkunst i det nittende og tyvende århundre by H. Alsvik og L. Østby (S400:4.b.9.470-471)

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