The World's Columbian Exposition,Digital History Project

ART & ARCHITECTURE: The Art - Denmark, Norway and Sweden
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[55] — The Scandinavian Art of Northern Europe which had been slowly asserting itself in Continental galleries for a number of years made its strongest collective display at the Paris Exposition of 1889, — Sweden ranking with Switzerland as the most brilliant painting schools after the French. At Chicago the exhibit of the former nation seems scarcely up to the high standard of that date, while that of the latter has disappeared entirely. That coming rejuvenation of the somewhat worn and fatigued art impulse in the older nations which is to proceed from these northern climes does not assert itself very loudly in these galleries, full of new suggestions as they are. Sweden still maintains a technical superiority, due mainly to the brilliant work of three or four men, Zorn, Larsson and Bjorck; Norway gives very forcibly — possibly even more forcibly because of a certain naivete of workmanship — the impression of the hardness and poverty and cold in the national life; Denmark seems to show by its tentative excursions in various directions, and by a considerable quantity of truly indifferent color work that it still occupies a sort of [56] middle ground between the older and more conventional schools and that fresh breath which is to come from the north. But in all of them the visitor feels that he is getting away, to a considerable extent, from the Paris art schools, though several of the more important of these Scandinavian painters who have graduated in the German academies, exhibit only in the German galleries. As to the directness of the message which these painters deliver, as to the fidelity with which they represent the national impulse, the truth seems to be that, on the whole, they are reliable, though they have been strongly accused of rendering only the more optimistic and superficial aspect, — differing in this respect from the naturalists of Holland and the poets, playwrights and novelists of their own race. Between the cheerful smiling peasant girls of Hans Dahl, or the sunny splendor of Bjorck’s “Cow House,” for example, and the uncomfortable realism of Christian Krohg’s peasant studies, or of several of those in these galleries, a very wide field is covered. And, as is but natural, in those departures from realistic themes, of which there are, altogether, a good many among the three nations, the most successful generally have been those inspired by the national legend.

Norway, whose exhibit in the Fine Arts Building is perhaps the most eminently national in its characteristics, contributes also to the Exposition a national building and a facsimile of an ancient Viking ship that are both unique and which both represent with suitable dignity the nation that maintains, amidst this Columbian Exposition, a prior claim to the discovery of America. The Norwegian building, to be found near the lake front, represents the old “Stavkirke” architecture of the twelfth century, the ridges of its curious steep gables terminating in those grotesque carved heads of birds, or some other animal, peculiar to the Scandinavian art. This building, sixty by twenty-five feet in dimensions, is constructed entirely of Norway pine and was planned and built in that country, being sent over here in sections with the workmen to erect it. The Viking ship, which divides the naval honors with the Spanish caravels, is constructed on the model of that discovered in the “Kingsmound” at Gokstad, near Sandefjord, Norway, by a sailor in 1880, and built by popular subscription for the World’s Fair. Unlike the caravels, this vessel made the voyage to America on her own resources, and with a degree of comfort and speed that proved at least the possibility of Leif Ericsson’s famous exploit. She is of oak, clinker built, caulked with cow’s hair spun into a sort of cord, seventy five feet over all in length, sixty feet on the keel, a beam of fifteen and a half feet, and a draught of three and a half. At the prow rises high in the air a great carved dragon’s head, and the tail of the beast appears at the stern, both richly gilded and the splendor of the vessel is further increased by the row of shields along each bulwark, in yellow and black, and, when in [57] commission, by the red and white striped roofing. At the stern is a massive “high seat” for the chief or “Jarl,” covered with carved Runic inscriptions; there are no decks excepting two small ones, fore and aft, and the rigging consists of one mast that can be taken down, and one yard carrying a great square sail. The oars are sixteen on each side, each seventeen feet long, and the ship is steered by an oar on the starboard side, near the stern, after the old sea-king fashion. The picked crew that brought her over numbered thirteen men, under the command of Captain Magnus Andersen.

LEIF ERICKSSON, his ship and his crew, with the first-seen coast of Vinland rising on the windy horizon, may be found restored and revived with the breath of life in the fine, big, briny painting by CHRISTIAN KROHG of Christiania in the Norwegian art galleries. But very few pictures indeed have even contrived to give as well as does this one the real freshness and wetness of the sea air. The hardy Leif himself, in a brilliant yellow doublet, stands steering his ship with the starboard oar and pointing over the green and tumbling seas to the faint shore line, only less green, that lifts itself above their crests. At his cry his crew come scrambling up on the after deck, carrying their arms as though they expected an enemy; the sea comes aboard, over the row of shields along the bulwark, and streams across the slanting deck under their feet. The vividness and realism with which this scene is rendered while keeping at the same time all the agrements of good painting are the more remarkable when it is considered that this artist made his debut as an apostle of the harshest and hardest modern realistic school, “pitched in as jarring a key as possible,” as H. H. Boyesen said of him. His first paintings were uncompromising studies of life among the poor and degraded, and were accompanied by a similar movement in the literature of the day, — the artist contributing also with his pen towards the promulgation of these Zolaistic doctrines from which this painting shows so great and wholesome a departure. Almost at the other extremity of art conception is the very large and at first incomprehensible picture by CHRISTIAN SKREDSVIG of Sandviken, called “THE SON OF MAN,” also reproduced for these pages. A tablet on the frame considerately explains that the text is from St. Luke, 19;36, that passage in which, after the disciples had appropriated for the Master’s use the “colt” which they found tied at the entrance of the village, “as he went, they spread their clothes in the way.” This text, however, is introduced only to explain the action of the old peasant woman in the foreground who has spread out, in front of the doorstep, not “clothes,” but three figured pieces of woven stuff, like carpets, and set certain flower pots on the corner to keep them down. The colt, the disciples and the Syrian village have all disappeared, among the little group of country people on the road, in front of the great [58] barn, we perceive a mechanic in a flannel shirt, and as he lays his hand upon a child’s head we conclude by a process of induction that is anything but artistic, that this must be the “Son of Man.” The Pharisees are represented by the village pastor and one or two of his better appearing parishioners who are not paying attention to this incident; and the poor and distressed by the little girl who lifts the bandage from her eyes, by the truncated woman, in pink and blue, wheeled along in the foreground, and by the other inmates of the cottage behind the old woman with the carpets. Were it not for the judicious, conventional painting of most of these figures and especially of their landscape environment this elaborate attempt in the very newest phase of religious painting would be worth but little consideration.

But in at least two other directions does this Norwegian art exhibit display a brilliant artistic force, — in the landscapes of Fritz Thaulow, who lives in Paris, and in the admirable designs for fairy stories by Gerhard Munthe, of Sandviken. These latter are executed in flat colors with heavy outlines on cheap paper, with a great economy of labor but with a prodigious expenditure of weird inventiveness and originality adapting itself, apparently with the greatest ease, to the naive and infantile mode of expression. Thaulow’s landscape studies, generally of snow or of running water, combine in a remarkable degree great truthfulness of observation and rendering with a wonderful charm of color. The two pastel studies of icy rivers, in black frames, that hang on the right side of a doorway in Gallery 71, for example, are most beautiful and sympathetic translations of Nature in one of her least kindly moods, the artist having found in her a charm, which she only reveals to her most intimate friends. Equally beautiful, and even more cleverly discovered, is the motif of the breaking water from the mill wheels with its wonderful, shifting color, the gray, time-worn buildings and the high light beyond, in the “Behind the Mills.” In the fourth picture, that hangs next this one on the line, the familiar blue shadows on the snows are treated with more than the usual painter’s persuasiveness and plausibility. In their widely differing lines these two artists are entitled to be classed among the first. Munthe also displays his versatility in two or three oil paintings of more than usual ability, as in the study of an old farm house with its white horse for a high note, and the “Evening in Eggedal, Norway,” with its very good color.

Of the “national” pictures, those to which we bring a curiosity as much ethnological as aesthetic, one of the most interesting, from both points of view, is the “Confirmation Banquet” of Gustav Wentzel of Christiania. In this we are admitted into at least one aspect of the daily life of the people, their types, their furnishings, almost their thoughts. The company is arranged gravely around the sides of the lamplit room, the centre of which is occupied by the long table; each holds a glass of the confirmation wine and, by the table, the minister, excellently well silhouetted against the light, has concluded his little discourse. This difficult problem in painting is very well solved, and with the “Midsummer Night” study of yellow sunset through trees constitutes the strongest half of the painter’s exhibit. In the “Morning” breakfast, with its hot and cold lights rendered much after the manner of the [59] impressionists, and in the peasants in their black and white costumes of the “Sunday Evening,” we are less interested. Eilif Petersen, of Christiania, sends a good picture of two peasant women seated on the ground sheepshearing, the patient sheep particularly well painted, and a life-sized, full-length portrait of Alexander Kielland, in a long blue frock coat, a heavy silk hat and carrying a cane in his hand, well rounded, solidly planted, true to life. Jacob Somme, also of Christiania, is equally sincere and void of affectation in his work but not so good a painter, his “Lay Preacher” talking to two or three peasants, a red house in the background, being rather hard and flat in painting, and Jacob Bratland’s “Commission for Tax Assessment” is a large painting of figures in a lamplit interior well carried out; among the domestic landscapes one of the best Adelsten Normann’s “NAROFJORD” reproduced at the head of this chapter.

In portraiture Norway is represented by Werensskiold of Christiania, who was awarded one of the Grands Prix at the Paris Exposition of 1889, but — it has been thought — possibly because of the lack of competitors. Here he shows a portrait of Bjornstjerne Bjornson, apparently unfinished, but marked by the same characteristics of determination, “of fierce concentration of energy,” of which his countryman Boyesen complained in another (or the same) presentation of the great Norwegian; an unflattering portrait of Erika Nisson in red, at her piano; one of Bjornson’s mother, and one of Edward Greig, against the tapestry background. Among the landscapes, those of Adelsten Normann’s are especially worthy of notice, the “Summer Night,” on the Lofoten Islands, with its mellow light, the “North Wind,” on the Norwegian coast and the “Raftsund Lofoten.” Ludo Munthe, of Dusseldorf, is represented by a well rendered “Norwegian Village” in its snowy mantle, and George Stromdal of Christiania by a large canvas in which a wide expanse of country with a few small figures in the foreground is made to represent an historical incident of the invasion of July, 1814, the approach of the enemy heralded by the beacons on the mountain tops. The sculpture exhibit comprises only seven works, the most notable of which is Johanna Sinding, of Copenhagen, pleasing and very carefully modeled figure of a little nude girl asleep.

The Special Commissioner of Fine Arts for Sweden is MR. ANDERS L. ZORN, and a very important portion of the national exhibit has proceeded from his studio. At Paris, in 1889, where this very clever painter first became [60] known to a large section of the general public, he made a less imposing display than here — four of his seven paintings being portraits, and four of them water colors. In these water colors, however, the extraordinary facility of the artist’s execution was so well adapted to the qualities of this medium that it is to be regretted that no similar works are to be seen here. Not content with his eight paintings in oil and his eleven etchings, Mr. Zorn is also represented by the little bust of his grandmother, in birchwood, set in a niche under a glass case, and so very unobtrusive that it is easily overlooked. In this patient little carving, in which the querulous look of life and of possible motion penetrates through the multitudinous detail, it is difficult to recognize the dashing painter of these bravura canvases. The “OMNIBUS” and the “Ball” have been reproduced by the painter in etchings of equal art value, and are the most popular of Mr. Zorn’s works — because they are large and because they are not portraits, nor nudities — but the most valuable from a painter’s point of view are the luminous nude studies and the “Toast in ‘Idun.’” The “Idun” (Goddess of Youth), it appears, is the name of a scientific and artistic society in Stockholm, and the personality of the stout Scandinavian gentleman, Mr. Dieselgren, its secretary and founder, who rises, glass and cigar in hand, to respond to the toast just offered before us to the life. Of the nudes, one is a bather at sunset, on a rocky coast, repeating a somewhat similar motif shown at Paris, her glowing flesh tones reduced to their proper and natural values by the figure in vermilion just above them; the second another rendition of these tones as modified by the greenish and gray reflections of the forest; and the third another sunny version. The two former are owned by Mr. C. T. Yerkes, of Chicago, and the third by Mr. Charles Deering of the same city; the “Ball” by Mr. George W. Vanderbilt of New York, and the “Omnibus” by Mrs. John T. Gardner of Boston. Another brilliant color study is the half-length of a Swedish girl, “Margit,” before her looking glass, her string of beads taken into her mouth for convenience sake while she braids her hair. “The Fair at Mora, Sweden,” much larger and considerably grayer, is a noonday [61] scene, the fair itself in the background and one to whom its temptations have proved too strong fallen face downwards in the foreground whilst his faithful helpmeet sits by waiting, holding his hat in her honest hand.

Mr. Zorn’s etchings include a repetition of the “Toast in ‘Idun;’” the famous portrait of M. Renan, executed at one sitting and of which he wife said, — “You have caught him to perfection. It is himself. When he is not watched he is always like that;” the portrait of himself with his wife standing behind him, and several other admirable studies of heads in which the modeling, the expression, the life, seem to develop themselves under a multitude of hasty and almost random strokes in a truly surprising manner. The exhibit of this artist alone would be sufficient to give an importance to the Swedish galleries, but there are also other worthy of consideration. MR. CARL LARSSON, who also distinguished himself at the Paris Exposition of 1889, by a wildly original and decorative triptych, combining painting and relief work and symbolizing in an entirely novel manner the Art of the Renaissance, of the eighteenth century and of the present day, is also present at Chicago in some of his works. The largest which we reproduce for these pages is a family portrait group, rendered in a novel manner so as to constitute at once a portrait group and a paneled mural decoration. A comfortable-looking red brick country house, which Mr. Larsson evidently wishes us to understand is his own, is seen in the middle distance and down the broad pathway towards us straggles the family, with a flock of geese in the rear to complete the composition. The red of the house is repeated in the flat vermilion tones of the mother’s shawl and in the red and blue striped stockings of the children, the last, and nearest one leaning, boyish fashion, on the arbitrary gilded bar [62] that runs across the frame and the family pug dog, lying on his side, contributing an absolutely invaluable incident and yellowish tone to complete this ornate procession. Notwithstanding this unconventional treatment as of a flat decoration the family portraits are not lost sight of, and the mere “likenesses” are all there. In the Swedish fairy tale illustration we have a three-panel piece — on the left, the fairy princess, a pale young Swedish girl with her pale hair in braids, on the right, the boy who killed the Ogre, saved and married the princess and secured half the kingdom, his mouth open, the sword over his shoulder and the Ogre’s head in a bag, and, in the centre, in carved and gilded relief the Ogre himself, or some strange presentation of heads. This is certainly a grateful getting-away from the banal in fairy tales.

Very brilliant, sunny, and full of color is OSCAR BJORCK’s INTERIOR OF A COW HOUSE, reproduced for this work by an etching and lent by the National Gallery of Stockholm, and which may be compared with Zorn’s “Interior of a Stockholm Brewery,” lent to the United States Loan Collection by Mrs. Potter Palmer. His Royal Highness, Prince Eugen of Sweden and Norway, also endeavors to render the shifting effects of sunlight, in his AUTUMN DAY, in which the very yellow-orange foliage reflects itself in the very blue river.

That “sombre and often grotesque luxuriance of the Germanic fancy,” which H. H. Boyesen, for example, finds so satisfactorily developed in the Norwegian painter, Arbo, — but in which some of us fail to become interested unless supplemented by a reasonable amount of technical excellence, manifests itself but little in these galleries. In all new schools, and in many of the ld ones, it is the imaginative painters who paint least well, and this probably accounts in great measure for their absence here. Apart from Larsson’s Ogre story there are only two or three Swedish pictures in which the artist has gone over the border to find his theme.

[63] — IDA VON SCHULZENHEIM sends a large painting of some graceful greyhounds, here reproduced in an etching; there is a very good, typical donkey, “Going to Market” in the snow behind his master in Carl Tradgardh’s picture, and by BRUNO LILJEFORS, of Upsala, there are a number of pictures of wild beasts, birds, etc. that demonstrate close study and faithful rendering. In his FOXES, one of these marauders is just clearing a rail fence in the woods while the second pauses, alert and suspicious at the bottom a moment before taking his leap; in the HAWKS’ NEST, the young birds, wild-eyed and fierce, clamor and strike at the murdered hare which the parent has just brought home; in the “Wild Geese,” the “Grouse Shooting,” and one or two others we have careful studies of the game, their haunts, their hunters, or other details of their life and death. Hagborg, among three or four other peasant studies, sends the large EVENING of our photogravure, the return from labor; and ALLAN OSTERLIND, of Stockholm, a large canvas in which the somewhat worn pathos of the subject is redeemed by the simplicity and discreetness of the presentation and the excellence of the brush work. The three orphan girls are seen by the light of a single candle in the desolate cottage, the eldest — on whom the care of the household now devolves — kneels in despair with her head on the hard wooden bench, the two youngest, in their little white caps, sit stiffly close together. The second looks straight before her with a vacant expression; the smallest, her long red hair falling over her shoulder, looks at her, — it is the desolation of bereavement among the poor. And among the best pastels in the whole Department of Fine Arts is ALF. WALLANDER’S POULTERERS — excellent alike in characterization, color and truthfulness.

Among the nineteen works of Swedish sculpture there are several that are worthy of attention, in addition to the smallest, already cited, Zorn’s bust of his grandmother. Among these are four [64] or five life-sized figures that in certain characteristics of attitude or expression add sufficient interest to their technical qualities of good workmanship to revive the spectator’s somewhat jaded interest, — the commonplace nude figure being one of the first works of art of which the average spectator tires. Three of these are furnished by HASSELBERG of Stockholm, the “Water Lily,” the “Snowdrop” and THE FROG, all in plaster. The last named is reproduced at the beginning of this chapter; in the first, the nymph lies extended on her back in very supple and undulatory lines.

The Danish exhibit of sculpture includes about the same number of pieces as the Swedish but is scarcely as interesting. The most celebrated work is the “Captive Mother” of Stephan Sinding, which was awarded a gold medal of the first class at Munich and a Grand Prix at Paris in 1889. The sculptor is Norwegian born though his studio is in Copenhagen, and the official Danish catalogue says he is “the most prominent representative in Denmark of the French style of plastic.” His captive mother, entirely nude and her hands bound behind her, kneels on the ground and by leaning forward enables her infant, lying before her, to take the breast. The attitude is not ungraceful, notwithstanding its strangeness.

Much more in evidence is LAURITS TUXEN, whose exhibit includes the SUSANNA AT THE BATH, reproduced for these pages, this famous scene apparently taking place on the house tops. This picture was first exhibited in 1879.

The most notable of the other figure painters here are Julius Paulsen, Michael and Anna Archer, H. J. Brendekilde, Axel Hon, Peter Ilsted, Valdemar Kornerup, Oscar Matthiesen, who is Swedish Commissioner of Fines Arts to the Exposition, and Bertha Wegnann, all of whom have received medals and other honors at home and abroad. Of the good landscapes, one of the best and most summery is Henrik Jespersen’s study on the brink of a rivulet in West Tutland, and very well rendered are the greens in Sofie Holten’s “Border of the Wood.” N. K. Skovgaard has painter with much detail a goblin’s forest, swarming with the mysterious little red caps; on of the best of the marines is a view on the rocky coast near Bornholm, Denmark, by Chr. Blache, and among the best cattle painting are the studies of cows’ heads in Otto Haslund’s “Interior of a Stable.” NIELS PETERSEN-MOLS has discovered a new motif for a cattle piece and paints his herd all in exactly similar attitudes presenting their tails to the wind and rain, even the herdsman facing the same way, with the same air of passive endurance.

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Digital History Collection
Page Created: December 10, 1998