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08 November 2010

The Northern Light

Our weekend was lazy, we needed to gain energies back after our previous trip, which I still have to blog about.  Going places is great but it always leaves you slightly exhausted. In my case, my condition is currently aggravated by a nasty sinus infection I'm battling and that seems to refuse to vacate my body. I must admit it's driving me slightly insane. Well, I'm dealing with it. More or less.

On Saturday afternoon I managed to venture out, though. Villa Manin is hosting an extraordinary exhibition in collaboration with Nordic national galleries to document the shaping of Scandinavian national identity through landscape painting. It's an event I couldn't miss and I persuaded my family to join me. I could have gone on my own on any week morning, but I wanted Alfie and Ali to watch this peculiar exhibition. They both liked it very much and didn't regret. Alice was particularly fascinated by the moon light paintings, while I adored the way it was structured.

Nordic idiom in Scandinavian visual arts is something that has always intrigued me. It took time to emerge, because it was overshadowed by a western culture dominated by the Mediterranean, but when artists finally started to evolve a joyous affirmation of Northerness, it developed in its own original way.

The works were grouped thematically to show how Nordic landscape evolved from sublime to picture of the mind, whose famous exponent was the Norwegian Munch. When it all started, the sublime dimension of the landscape in its original sense was of an overwhelming, even terryfying beauty.  Lights were of a theatrical effect and subjects of a striking illusioninsm.  

All the following paintings are taken from Artsmia.

 The Jostedal Glacier, 1840
Peder Balke
Shipwreck on the Coast of Norway, 1832
Johan Christian Dahl

 Waterfall in Småland, 1856
Marcus Larson

After this period, art made its transition to realism. A closer engagement between art and reality drove artists to paint their works directly out in the nature, in front of the  subject, in order to better capture the light, colors and atmosphere. The phase produced interesting paintings, with a special attention to details, such as my favorites here. 

 The Fjord at Sandviken, 1879
Hans Gude

Pond Water Crowfoot, 1895
Eero Järnefelt 

 Imatra in Winter, 1893
Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Too bad the phase was short because academic demands were very firmly established and the critics tended to attack new tendencies mercilessly. The result was that  these new elements of reality were gradually absorbed  as a part of studio painting, and many artists started to embrace an evocative approach of landscape, with an interest in the less spectacular scenery of the lowlands, where the light nights of the Nordic summer became a central theme. 

 Summer Night, 1886
Eilif Peterssen

 Flower Meadow in the North, 1905
Harald Sohlberg 

Symbolism had started to breakthrough. This lead into the realm of an inner landscape, which became picture of the mind rather than impressions of the outer world. For many artists, painting was a way out of a personal crisis in their lives. The sense of chaos had a strongly autobiographical background. The itnerpretation of nature, therefore, became very subjective.

In this particular work, The Flying Dutchman, the painting seems to begin where words cease or are inadequate to express his author's (playwright and writer) overwhelming feelings -loneliness and anxiety, I would suggest. 

Storm in the Skerries,  1892
August Strindberg

In this other one, Spring Evening, there's an exaggerated contrast between the bright yellow and the black that pushes the view beyond realistic. Once again, the feeling of loneliness is marked by the lone islet.   

 Spring Evening when the Ice is Melting, 1897
Hugo Simberg

But it's with Edward Munch that this phase reached its climax. Landscape subjects play an important role in Munch's art, as the setting for his human dramas. "If I do not know what to paint, I paint landscape." Munch confided this to his friend and biographer Rolf Stenersen. His themes were distinctive with intensity and depth of emotions and his simplification and stylisation of nature's forms denote he's firmly anchored in observed reality (credits).

 Moonlight, 1895
Edvard Munch

The final part of the exhibition included about 40 works of this tormented artist. One of the painting that expresses his sense of being and lonliness at his best for me is Soirée sur l'Avenue Karl-Johan.

Edvard Munch

The city street is crowded but still every pedestrian seems alone, packed to a limited side of the street. The tension is accentuated by the masklike faces, the purplelish colors denote drama, with a neat human figure dismantled walking on his own. No other painting evokes the dissonance and anxiety of the modern city better, I think.

You can view other photos of painting by Munch at the Villa Manin Exhibition here. I can't post them because they're protected by copyrights. Of course.


To conclude such a brilliant and productive afternoon, we decided to stop at the local Ikea on the way back home. It's another Scandinavian invention, whose uniqueness of each design and talent of the designers fascinate me too. Which means I never get out of the store without buying at least something, Another obvious of course here :) Because, come on, you don't go to Ikea and have a look, after all. There's always something useful you need there.

So let's see, this time I came up with a shopping trolley bag, perfect to ease my change of habits and shops in the neighborhood. It'll be nice and oh so relieving not to carry on bags around.

A new desk chair for Alice, because now that she's assigned daily homeworks she needs to sit comfortably and correctly. Plus, the color is a personal touch to her already girlish looking room.

A few other items but, listen here, this time the revolutionary purchase was food. It never occurred before, as I don't associate food to Ikea, but I gave a look at what they have and what became as skeptical ended up being a realization that the range is eclectic! I drabbed some crisps, which were devoured pronto, bread, chocolate, and a delicious cheese very similar to our gorgonzola.

 Then we all had dinner there. The famous meat balls once again, followed by a creamy hot chocolate. 

Yummy and let's all bless consumism for this. And of course Scandinavian landscapes.  The roots of Ikea are to be found in the former struggle for Nordic national identity for sure!


  1. Why don't we have THAT chocolate in our IKEA? I will protest! LOL
    IKEA food is quite intriguing to the Greeks as well, we don't eat deer meat for example, or drink white wine with spices in it -reminds me I have to grab a couple of bottles, for starters and then we'll see....
    As for the exhibition, thanks for "taking" us there! I owe you one!

  2. Hahahahahahahaha, Roula, you stole my comment!!!! I was thinking exatly the same thing, I don't recall having seen that choc thing here.

    As for the rest, did you study history of art, bella??? I've always regreted not having studied Scandinavian art properly in Uni, we're much too focused on the Mediterranean and French. I love Munch so much, and thanks to you it's clear where he came from. And where IKEA came from too. What a bright post, kuddos to you!!!

  3. i have no idea why that chocolate is missing both in greece and spain. maybe the cafeteria products vary according to possible tastes? you should really protest in that case, because it's truly yummy! :)

    yes, i studied history of art in high school and took a few exams of art in university as well. munch was a demanding subject for my little thesis once, so you can imagine how keen i was to go to the exhibition! :)


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