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Art: Peder Balke and stormy weather

This all started after a comment by schionatulander about how European Art is usually seen just as Italian, French, German and British art - with a few artists from other European countries thrown in for good measure. It's sad that this is the norm, as it all helps create a very narrow (and IMO very boring)Art Historical canon.

Now Norway has one shining star on the Art Historical map and that is Edvard Munch. This is not a post about him. He has plenty of attention already.(and secretly I'm not that fond of Munch, and I make it a habit not to write too much about art I don't like. Which is also the reason why you will never find large ramblings about Rubens and Van Gogh in this journal.)
Instead this is a post about a Norwegian painter I'm very fond of: Peder Balke. And if you are now saying "Who?" then please read on.

Peder Balke lived from 1804-1887, and wasn't properly acknowledged until after his death. He is now considered as one of our the best landscape painters, and is known for his dramatic landscapes done in nearly monochrome colours.

Storm over Vardøhus fortress

Balke's motives are almost all from the Northern most part of Norway, like this one which shows a fortress right next to the Russian border.

Stetind Mountain in fog

This is Balke's most famous painting and I love the drama of it all. In fact it's almost so dramatic that it borders on being camp, but I think the monochrome colour scheme is what saves him.

Balke started his career as a bygdemaler or folk art painter where he decorated the houses of local big shots. He later received a formal education from a school in Christiania (now Oslo), then Stockholm and finally Dresden where he was a pupil of another famous (to us at least) Norwegian painter J.C. Dahl.

Lighthouse of the Norwegian Coast

All of Balke's paintings exaggerate nature to some degree. Sure Northern Norway is wild, but it is not that wild. But due to the exaggeration I find that Balke's images of nature are not so much a depiction of a certain landscape, but more a depiction of a certain worldview where in nature was something wild, chaotic and nearly divine. I also find it very telling that any humans or buildings in his paintings are so small and puny compared to the enormity of nature. But then again he did work within the Romantic tradition.

Northern Lights

I love this picture, mostly because he has managed to capture the wonder but also the fright in seeing the Northern Lights. If you have never seen the Aurora Borealis, then let me tell you there is something mystical and vaguely supernatural about it, and you can readily believe - like the indigenous Samii did - that trolls and darkness travel with the Northern Lights. And despite being a black and white illustration Balke has captured that sense of trollish-dread.


( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 28th, 2007 03:15 pm (UTC)
These paintings are beautiful and haunting, somehow.

But due to the exaggeration I find that Balke's images of nature are not so much a depiction of a certain landscape, but more a depiction of a certain worldview where in nature was something wild, chaotic and nearly divine.

I like this, in which the painting demonstrates less truth in nature but more the truth of the artist.

Thank you so much for sharing these images and for the art lesson! I very much appreciate it.
Sep. 29th, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC)
I find them haunting too - and to be honest a bit disturbing. The nature shown here is so violent and chaotic that it borders on the hostile. I think the hostility is furthered by the lack of people - both as identification points and as scale-markers. For instance we have no idea how large the mountain in "Stetind" is - as we have nothing to reference it by. I feel that adds to the paintings uneasiness. If that makes sense?

And yes, in the end the paintings do say more about the artist than nature - but that is the wonderful thing about art. It always comes back to humans and our flawed and fascinating character.

So glad to hear you liked it! :)
Sep. 28th, 2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
That last one is absolutely gorgeous. My mother finds the Northern Lights frightening and would appreciate the eerie quality of the picture.

I don't like Van Gogh either. Thought I was the only one.
Sep. 29th, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC)
The last one is my clear favourite - specifically for combining the eerie with the beautiful in regards to the Northern lights. (Which I find a little frightening too, so I can understand you mother there.)

No, not the only one. ;) But I always feel strange saying it aloud - as he is one of the Great Artists etc. But his paintings just leave me strangely uninterested
Sep. 28th, 2007 09:01 pm (UTC)
I am in awe of these paintings. "Gorgeous" doesn't begin to cover it. Storm over Vardøhus fortress kind of reminds me of the setting in Wuthering Heights with its vast, brooding wildness, and Northern Lights is what I imagine it looks like out beyond the Wall. All it needs is a weirwood :D
Sep. 29th, 2007 09:13 am (UTC)
Wuthering Heights is a good comparison. They have similar sentiments in regards to nature. Also, while both are entertaining and I enjoy reading/watching them I'm very glad I don't live in their world. ;)

Northern Lights is what I imagine it looks like out beyond the Wall.

Hee! I've had the same idea. In fact whenever Martin describes Wildling music I keep thinking it must sound something like Nordic folk music.
(Deleted comment)
Sep. 29th, 2007 09:09 am (UTC)
Hee! yes, he's pretty much the poster-child for Romanticism's version of sublime isn't he?
I must admit I have a soft spot for art that tosses away subtlety and goes all: "La! Here is DRAMA!" Which would explain where my love for Romanticism comes from. ;)

But to be honest I wouldn't want him on my wall at home.

Sep. 29th, 2007 10:38 pm (UTC)
I really like his art - the style seems to be really interesting, he paints Earth as if it is alive!
Sep. 30th, 2007 11:14 am (UTC)
he paints Earth as if it is alive!

He does, doesn't he? And it's all very disturbing and chaotic- but I do like it very much. So much drama and you can almost feel the stormy winds.
Sep. 30th, 2007 09:36 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you, thank you! That's fascinating!! His paintings are really dramatic: super-"sublime". And I like the one with the Stettind Mountain in fog. It looks like a fortress!
But I have to admit, that Clausen Dahl did not seem to influence him a lot! :-) (Well, there you have it, I completely forgot to add Dahl to the Norwegian painters I know... Perhaps the connection to Friedrich and that he worked mostly in Dresden let me think he was German. *hides, quickly*.) As a child, I loved one particular painting of Dahl that is shown in Munich in the Neue Pinakothek: The Morning after the Storm, 1819. You see a desperate sailor sitting on rocks in a stormy sea together with a small dog, while his ship and his fellow crew-members have surely been devoured by the sea. (Don't know how to add a painting in answers...)

Oh, how big are Balke's paintings? I am imagining they are rather monumental...
Sep. 30th, 2007 11:13 am (UTC)
He does seem to encapsulate the Romanticist idea of the sublime in nature rather well. ;) I love the Stettind too, but my favourite is the last one of the Northern Lights.

The J.C. Dahl influence isn't very obvious no, but I found this painting which is one of his earlier works - and he seems to be more akin to Dahl there.

Funnily enough most of his paintings are rather small, or at any rate nowhere near as monumental some of Dahl's work. I must admit that the size of Balke's paintings surprised me - I was expecting larger-than-life, and instead some of the pictures had an almost intimate quality.

Balke is also a beloved artist in Northern Norway, as they see him as one of the first artists who painted the region with any dignity, and in some cases bothered to paint the region at all.

Perhaps the connection to Friedrich and that he worked mostly in Dresden let me think he was German. *hides, quickly*.

Hee! That's okay. Considering that Dahl spent hardly any time as a grown-up in Norway I'm not sure how Norwegian he considered himself. he went on a few inspirational trips to Norway and that was about that.
But I think Dahl's National-Romantic paintings (which are monumental ) have had such huge influence upon Norwegian art and the Norwegian idea of self that he is considered very "typical-Norwegian".

Sadly I've never been to Munich (but it is one of those cities I'd very much like to visit), so I'm not sure which painting you are describing. Do you have a link?

Sep. 30th, 2007 03:14 pm (UTC)
he seems to be more akin to Dahl there.

That's true. And it's beautiful!! But one really expects a rather monumental format according to the dramatic subject of the other paintings of his. It's interesting, that they are only that small.

The Dahl painting I referred to was not to be found on the Internet in anything else than crap quality. I scanned it... Here the picture. I still like it... :-)

Morgen nach einer Sturmnacht/Morning after a stormy night, 1819
Oil/canvas, 74,5 x 105,3 cm
Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek, Inv.-Nr. 14631
Oct. 2nd, 2007 10:48 am (UTC)
Ooh! That Dahl is gorgeous! And I can honestly say I've never seen it before! Most of his works that are exhibited in Norwegian museums are those that have "Norwegian" motives.

Thank you so much for scanning it! I really appreciated it.
Oct. 4th, 2007 06:49 am (UTC)
You are welcome!! It wasn't that much work... :-)

And these Norwegian motives would be prehistoric graves, fjords and the like?- There were one of each "topic" exhibited in the "Europa" exhibition in Brussels/Munich this year. I did not know this side of Dahl so very well...
Oct. 8th, 2007 04:28 pm (UTC)
And these Norwegian motives would be prehistoric graves, fjords and the like?

Yes, that is them. A lot of huge mountains and wild looking fjords. Dahl is in many ways considered to be the starting point for the national-romantic tradition in Norwegian painting, which was predominant all through the 19th Century. Some of the most famous of those painters were Tidemand & Gude - there is a short page in English about them here.
But in short Dahl's paintings inspired a tradition where painting a Romanticised version of Norwegian nature was the standard.
Oct. 9th, 2007 12:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link. I saw a few of these paintings in the "Europa" exhibition here in Munich. But I still have the feeling that it would be worthwhile to do a bit more research...
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )