Friday, April 3, 2015

Harald Sohlberg, Winter Night in the Mountains

Harald Sohlberg, Winter Night in the Mountains, 1914

Harald Sohlberg (1969-1935) was a Norwegian painter.  He is known for his romantic depictions of Norwegian towns and landscapes.  Sohlberg came from a large, middle class family with eight children.  He did not finish school and instead became apprenticed to a decorative painter at age sixteen.  Soon after, he began studying at the Royal School of Art and Design.  Sohlberg was very committed to the Romantic idea of the artist as solitary genius.  Although he did marry and have a family, he tended to isolate himself for large periods of time, and devote himself entirely to his paintings.  Among his well known pieces is Fisherman's Cottage (1907) which depicts the titular cottage through the trees of a dark wood.  His paintings are often highly dramatic and stylized, offering an intense view of his subjects.  Winter Night in the Mountains or Winter Night in Rondane is his best known series, a subject he returned to several times.  These paintings depict a view of the Rondane Mountains, across Atnsjøen Lake.  Sohlberg went skiing there in 1899 and immediately decided to paint the mountains.  He returned the next year and completed the first version in 1901.  He painted it again in this 1913-14 version and returned to the theme again in 1918.  All of these portrayals of the mountains present an extremely different view of the scene, ranging from dark and turbulent to bright and clear.  Notice the cross that Sohlberg places on the highest peak in each painting and the placement of the central star. The 1914 version, however, is perhaps the most atmospheric.  It is the darkest in coloration and in tone. Sohlberg's use of the trees in the foreground give an ominous character and make the lake look somewhat like a swamp.  The mountains seem to rise out of the darkness, a distant oasis in the gloom.  The particular rendering of the mountains is one of the most interesting elements of the painting.  With their purplish cast and highly textured brushwork, they appear quite present.  They roll and curve, almost breathing like living animals––a whale rising from the depths whose appearance we are lucky to witness.

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