Peder Balke – The Spell of the Arctic
Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Arctic nature plays the main role in the paintings
Norwegian landscape painting and the works of the Norwegian painter Peder Balke (1804–1887) are now receiving their first extensive showing in Finland. Balke is one of the most fascinating representatives of Romantic painting in Northern Europe. His art contains recurrent images of stormy seascapes, moonlight, northern lights, glaciers and snow-capped mountain ranges. Nature plays the main role in Balke’s paintings.
“Balke’s paintings of Arctic landscapes bring us face to face with a world known only to a few, and which is threatened by climate change,” says Museum Director Kirsi Eskelinen.
Peder Balke travelled a lot during his lifetime. He added to his artistic training in European art centres, sought out new subjects, and looked for markets for his works. An early trip to the northern regions of Norway, where nature made an enormous impression on him, turned out to be a major influence on Balke’s career. He was one of the earliest painters to travel north of the Arctic Circle, in the 1830s. Decades after the trip, the Arctic landscape continued to inspire Balke to experiment with ever-new painting techniques and was a major influence on his paintings throughout his life. A favourite subject was the North Cape, and the exhibition includes several works on this theme from different decades.
The Arctic landscapes that Balke depicted are changing rapidly today as a result of climate change. That change is particularly visible in more southerly glacial landscapes. Human beings at the mercy of nature were an important subject for the Romantic artists, but nowadays the situation is reversed: the glaciers are being exposed to human-induced changes.
The landscape painter rediscovered
This landscape painter of the Romantic era was long forgotten and his art has been rediscovered only relatively recently, including internationally. The National Gallery in London showed Peder Balke’s work in 2014, and since then his paintings have been seen in several collective exhibitions. The exhibition produced by the Sinebrychoff Art Museum is the first extensive monographic showing of Balke’s oeuvre in the Nordic countries outside of Norway. It features 42 paintings by Balke, which shed light on the different stages of his production. Right up to the end of his artistic career, he returned frequently to his memories of the Arctic landscape, interpreting them in an increasingly personal way. The late paintings verge on abstract expression, and are often very small and almost monochromatic, yet powerful and impressive.
“Peder Balke is one of the most original and experimental artists of the Romantic period,” says exhibition curator Knut Ljøgodt.
Peder Balke was not the only one to be enchanted by the Arctic. In the first decades of the 1800s, both local and foreign artists became greatly interested in the Nordic landscape. The mountains and coasts of Norway were especially popular. Besides Balke’s art, the exhibition includes paintings by his teachers Carl Johan Fahlcrantz (1774–1861) and Johan Christian Dahl (1788–1857), with whom Balke worked in Dresden. There he also came across the works of the landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774–1840). Balke’s oeuvre shows the influence of Dahl and Friedrich, both important role models for him.
The Peder Balke – The Spell of the Arctic exhibition has been arranged in collaboration with the Norwegian Nordic Institute of Art. It has been curated by Knut Ljøgodt, PhD, Director of the Institute, and Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, Director of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum. The Sinebrychoff Art Museum has collaborated extensively with Norwegian and Swedish museums to produce the exhibition.
- Born into a landless rural family on the island of Helgøya in 1804. Apprenticed to a local painter as a youth.
- In 1827–1829 studied at the Royal Drawing School in Oslo and in 1829–1833 in Stockholm under Carl Johan Fahlcrantz.
- Travelled to Northern Norway in 1832.
- Travelled in Europe in 1835–1836 and studied under the Norwegian artist Johan Christian Dahl in Dresden, where he encountered works by Caspar David Friedrich. Returned to Dresden repeatedly.
- Spent time in Europe in 1844–1850, especially Germany. In Paris he received a commission from Louis Philippe, King of the French. The sketches he made for this are in the Louvre Collection, but the commission came to nothing due to the Revolution of 1848. Also lived for a time in London.
- Having settled in Norway around 1850, devoted himself to social issues and supported the growing labour movement.
- Balke died in 1887, largely forgotten as an artist. His oeuvre was gradually rediscovered during the 20th century. His art has recently gained an international reputation through retrospective exhibitions (London, 2014), New York (2017).
Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD, is Director of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.
Knut Ljøgodt, PhD, is the Director of the Nordic Institute of Art in Norway. He is currently the main editor of a catalogue raisonné ofPeder Balke’s work. Ljøgod has curated several exhibitions focusing on Northern European art and has written extensively on the subject. Recent publications include Peder Balke: Sublime North (Skira 2020).
Peder Balke – Arktisen lumo| Peder Balke – Förtrollad av Arktis| Peder Balke – The Spell of the Arctic
Edited by: Claudia de Brün and Kersti Tainio.
Works loaned by:
Gundersen Collection, Oslo
Haugar Kunstmuseum, Tønsberg
National Library, Helsinki
KODE – Kunstmuseene i Bergen
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo
Nordnorsk Kunstmuseum, Tromsø
Further information about the exhibition:
Museum Director Kirsi Eskelinen, +358 (0) 294 500 490, Kirsi.Eskelinen@siff.fi
Chief Curator Claudia de Brün, +358 (0) 294 500 468, Claudia.email@example.com
Press material and photo requests:
Marketing and Communications Merja Häikiö, +358 (0) 294 500 482, firstname.lastname@example.org
Related events: Calendar – Sinebrychoff Art Museum (sinebrychoffintaidemuseo.fi)
Tickets: Museum entry €18, Concessions €12, Museum Card, free of charge, Under 18s €0, Free admission to the House Museum and the permanent collection on the 2nd floor.
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The Sinebrychoff Art Museum is part of the Finnish National Gallery, along with Kiasma and the Ateneum Art Museum.