The art at Elveseter
The Elvesæter family has built up a significant collection of art and peasant antiques with a clear emphasis on artworks from and about Norway from the second half of the 19th century. They bought from the big Norwegian art dealers as well as from international auction houses. However, the collection also consists of a number of other types of works. The collection not only tells something about the time it represents, but also to a very high degree something about the place and the Elvesæter family. Furthermore it is very special in the Norwegian context and has made a name for itself in most art-interested circles in this country.
Below follows a presentation of the most significant artists and works from the Elvesæter collection. They are listed in chronological order by year of birth of the artists as this can help with understanding the works and artistry. The art environment in Norway was and still is very limited. In the Elvesæter collection, we have artists with backgrounds from Düsseldorf, Munich, and Paris. These three cities were all very important for Norwegian artists.
Adolph Tidemand originally wanted to become a history painter, but ended up as a painter of folk life. He studied in Copenhagen before making the journey to Düsseldorf, where he would later have a very important role. After his stay in Düsseldorf, he traveled to Munich, Rome and finally Norway. In 1845, he returned to Düsseldorf where genre painting and depictions of folk life were central, something that suited Tidemand well. He traveled through Norway in 1843 and 1844, which left a deep mark. This would influence his motif choices in the future. It was important to him to depict the typically Norwegian, and he has therefore largely stuck to motifs such as baptisms, weddings, funerals and other religious customs over everyday life. It was not important to have distinctive features in the motif itself, but crucial to depict something that was Norwegian on a more permanent and general basis. The desire to promote the national was in J.C. Dahl’s spirit. The compositions were tight as in history paintings, a genre Tidemand had been interested in early on. Characteristic faces with strong features were decisive for the artist in his choice of models. He used models from all walks of life. Nevertheless, he often used colleagues in Düsseldorf as models. The folk costumes that were so important to Tidemand are reproduced down to the smallest detail in the pictures. The reason why this was of great interest at the time was that people were concerned with showing off the typically Norwegian. In addition to being a great artist, Tidemand documented his own contemporaries quite concretely and to a greater extent than other artists. He left behind a total of 80 pieces of folk costume which can now be seen at the Norwegian Folk Museum.
Many of the motifs from Adolph Tidemand’s most famous compositions were repeated, primarily as commissioned works. He continued to travel through Norway for the rest of his career. The more concerned he became with details, however, the more difficult it became to create life in the images, a combination that proved to be very challenging. The three Tidemand works in the Elvesæter collection were all made after 1850. This was a fruitful period for the artist and he created many important motifs during this time. The drama and seriousness have taken over after the idyll that was consistent with earlier pictures. The romantic rendering of peasant life was about to change in step with the rest of the trends of the day.
Norwegian funeral feast
The painting from 1854 is a very central Tidemand motif and is the one that has been at Elvesæter for the longest time. The picture belonged to Jessie Elvesæter’s great-aunt and it hang at Høvik main farm in Bærum. It was once bought at Blomqvist Kunsthandel. The subject is interesting, not only as a central work with a clear composition, but also because of the antiques in the picture. In this sense, the painting fits very well into the Elvesæter collection. Among other things, a tapestry hangs in the background, and you can clearly see a beautiful silver jug in the foreground. The painting has been reproduced in a lot of literature. There are two versions of this motif according to Lorentz Dietrichson who, at the end of the 19th century, wrote the most complete catalog of Tidemand’s published works. The second version is referred to as an “unfinished sketch” and hangs in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. Tidemand worked on the painting from early February to the end of August. It was included in the World Exhibition in Paris in 1855 and was later exhibited in Berlin where it was sold.
The painting looks back at a death that has taken place, while also foreshadowing the future of the various people depicted. At least one can start to think through what the death means to them and what life will be like afterwards. The tradition for grave beer consisted of inviting neighbors and others to a feast on the seventh day after death.
The farewell from the old parents
Avskjeden fra de gamle foreldre
The motif here, like several other of Adolph Tidemand’s paintings, dealt with a significant challenge for society in the mid-19th century, namely emigration. Tidemand painted in total eight versions of this motif in the years between 1851 and 1876. This painting from 1855 is said to have previously hung in the royal palace in Oslo. Here we are, as in Sognebud discussed below, in a smoking room with a characteristic triangular composition in the middle of the picture where the light seeps in. There is a calmness about the image despite the fact that the mood is sad and melancholic. The adults know that this farewell is final and that they will never see the young generation again.
At the death bed
This painting from 1862 is also considered one of Adolph Tidemand’s main works. It shows the distribution of communion in a smoking room in Hardanger. Smoking rooms were a favorite interior in Tidemand’s pictures, largely because of the special lighting effect he achieved by depicting subjects in these surroundings. There is something almost religious about the light seeping in and mixing with the smoke in an otherwise dim room. Several of his most famous paintings, such as Haugianerne (1852), were painted from smoking rooms. Sognebud is a very well known motif and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design has a version of this. It is the most famous of Tidemand’s so-called communion compositions. Here the priest blesses the dying person for the very last time. Tidemand was very concerned with the distribution of sacraments as a motif, and created a total of six versions of this theme. This version deals with a larger section and more people than several of the other versions. The work was painted for the World Exhibition in London the same year. There it was sold for NOK 14,400. Elvesæter bought the picture in London in the late 60’s and it has been in the family ever since. It is said that Adolph Tidemand had a relationship with the priest’s daughter whose father is pictured here. Tidemand did not go well down with the priest and this skepticism is clearly shown in several pictures.
Anders Monsen Askevold
Askevold is best known for his landscapes and animal motifs, most often cows. As a young man, he was a shepherd’s boy in Nordfjord where he got a thorough knowledge of cows. Askevold studied in Düsseldorf and had Hans Gude as his private teacher. He used the idiom from here, the combination of classicism and romanticism, to explore new aspects of the landscape in Western Norway. Between 1877 and 1878 he also traveled to Munich. Askevold’s motifs are about everyday life. He was quickly recognized abroad and participated in a number of international exhibitions in the 1860s and 70s. Both in his contemporaries and later, Askevold has been criticized for producing pictures with relatively similar motifs. Nevertheless, he was considered one of the most important artists of his time. His works were highly sought after. His style is very characteristic and portrays both him, the period in which he worked and the country he depicted. The National Gallery in Oslo has 23 works by Anders Askevold in its collection.
The journey to the mountain farm
Reisen til sæteren
The picture first hung privately at the Elvesæters family home in Lillehammer, before it was taken to the hotel where it has been given a nice location together with the other Askevold picture in the collection (both shown below).
Oscar Arnold Wergeland
Like several of the other artists represented in the Elvesæter collection, Wergeland studied in Munich. He wanted to become a story painter to a greater extent than most of his colleagues (except Eilif Peterssen). Among well-known historical motifs, Nordmennene lander på Island from 1877 can be mentioned. From Munich, one can recognize a style with an emphasis on figure drawing rather than colours. Eventually there were also more farm and fishing motifs from the southern coast of Norway as well as portraits and genre pictures.
Wergeland is best known for his work Eidsvoll 1814, which hangs in Stortinget, a historical work based on countless oral and written sources.
Mother and child
Mor med barn
The work shows, as the title suggests, a mother holding a child in her arms. She holds it up in the air and looks at it admiringly. The child looks happy and content and stretches out its arms towards the mother in mutual admiration. The Mother is dressed in a bunad (Norwegian national costume) and looks very typically Norwegian. In the background, we see a characteristic peasant interior with a wooden chest and a bed.
Ekenæs was another of the Norwegian artists active in the second half of the 19th century who studied in Munich. He is known for his fishing motifs, landscapes, peasant interiors and folk genre pictures. Ekenæs was considered to be technically very skilled, and he was also a good photographer. This can be traced in his pictures in the sense that they are rich in detail and lifelike. Like Edvard Munch, Ekenæs has connections to Åsgårdsstrand where he settled after his 20-year stay in Munich. The National Gallery has three pictures by Ekenæs in its collection.
Gerhard Munthe is known for his distinctive Norwegian expression. He had an unmistakable style with very clear ties to Norwegian culture and nature. Dansen i Bergi can be described as something he himself called rhythmic art. Munthe started his education at Eckersberg’s painting school in Kristiania (Oslo) and then traveled to Düsseldorf, unlike his colleagues who traveled to Munich. He was very interested in nature and was, to a greater extent than his colleagues, self-taught. He is known for his landscapes, as well as drawings and more decorative works such as Dansen i Bergi. In connection with his studies, Munthe met Frits Thaulow and Eilif Peterssen. These became close friends of his. In the 1880s, Munthe often exhibited at the Autumn Exhibition that Wentzel initiated. Furthermore, he is known to have participated in the so-called Fleskum-summer in 1886. It was only in the 1890s that he switched to the more decorative art form for which he has since become so famous for. He got the inspiration for this through tapestry, the old peasant art, the Norwegian Middle Ages and symbolic literature which was very current at the time. With this form of expression, Munthe is very much following a European tradition that came into force around the turn of the century, namely Art Nouveau and symbolism. He painted around 85 decorative motifs in the period between 1891 and 1926. Some of these motifs come in different versions, so that the total comprises close to 300 pictures, some as tapestries. He has also worked with decorations and porcelain. Gerhard Munthe spent many summers in Bøverdalen, and therefore has a special connection to the place.
The dance in the mountain
Dansen i Bergi
This work by Gerhard Munthe is the last one acquired by Åmund Elvesæter. It was bought at an auction abroad. The motif is supposed to be based on a dream he had, and is a very good example of his decorative art from the turn of the century. Munthe himself stated that he had worked a lot on the picture and that it was very important to him. It has been mentioned in a lot of literature and has been exhibited at various exhibitions.
Nils was the nephew of Knud Bergslien, who is also a well-known Norwegian artist. Like Munthe, Ekenæs and many others at the time, Bergslien also made the trip to Munich. Besides studying there, he also carried out several important study trips, such as one with Gerhard Munthe through Telemark. Despite the fact that Bergslien had specialized in depictions of folk life, he often had a comic touch to his pictures. The motifs were often cheerful, as in this one with the monks from the Elvesæter collection. His monk motifs were probably taken from Germany. He had a very informal and irreverent approach to motifs from monastic life. Another specialty Bergslien had brought with him from his trip in Telemark was elf motifs. This and other particularly Norwegian motifs made him popular among tourists and many of his pictures have ended up in the USA. Furthermore, the artist has been responsible for various forms of decoration assignments in everything from churches to hotels. In the picture from the Elvesæter collection, we see monks drinking in merry company. As mentioned, the motif is typical for the artist, who was both concerned with a cheerful atmosphere and monastic life.
Lars Jorde also had close contact with Gerhard Munthe. Munthe had a great influence on Jorde’s painting technique. Unlike the other Elvesæter artists who had stayed in Düsseldorf or Munich, Jorde traveled to Paris instead. He originally came from Hamar, and after studies and various stays abroad moved back to the district, more specifically to Lillehammer. Jorde is known for a bright, impressionistic technique, which he developed after attending the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900 and being inspired during a stay in France. In addition to the fact that his works have been purchased by the largest Norwegian museums, he is also well represented in Swedish museum collections.
Nils Gustav Wentzel
Gustav Wentzel is a well-known Norwegian artist who has made a name for himself as the main reason why the first Autumn exhibition was held. Wentzel had painted a picture, Snekkersvennen, which today hangs in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. This was initially rejected in the Art Association. Wentzel took the picture to Thaulow and Krohg, who both thought it shameful that it had been rejected. This shows the conservative view of art that prevailed in the association. Wentzel painted in a naturalistic tradition. The naturalists usually portrayed the disadvantaged in society and in this case of Snekkersvennen of a hunchbacked carpenter. The art association missed the beauty and ideal that people associated with art, and therefore rejected it. The dispute grew in scope, and ended with a separate artist exhibition in 1882, later known as the Autumn Exhibition.
Later in his career, Wentzel moved on to painting more interior motifs. He studied in Paris and when he returned from France, married Kitty Bætzmann. He then decided to follow in Adolph Tidemand’s footsteps. He made several trips with his family to Setesdal and then settled in Asker. The artist is considered to have been at his best in the 1880s. In the 1890s he painted several winter motifs – some better than others. The family’s economy got worse with each passing year and ended up having to move from Asker to Gudbrandsdalen. Wentzel spent the last years of his life in Lom where he died in 1927.
Aage Storstein is more famous for his paintings and decorative commissions than his tapestries, but this is a good example of the well-known artist also mastering the art of weaving. This work was most likely woven by his wife, but the effect is not lost in the transformation. One can still recognize Storstein’s cubist style. Aage Storstein was born in Stavanger and first moved from here in connection with his studies in Paris. Picasso was a great role model for the artist who was very interested in theory. Throughout, one can glimpse a contradiction in his works between the classic and the modern. This contrast gives his art a distinctive character. He often worked in large format, and the decoration of human rights in the western gallery in Oslo City Hall is known as one of his main works. The picture weaving tradition was also strong in Bøverdalen from the 18th century onwards, and one finds various forms of expression within the weaving tradition in the Elvesæter collection.
In general, many of the antiques were painted in recent times, probably in the 1950s when this was common practice. This means that it is more difficult to identify exactly when the antiques were made – and by whom.
Ola Skjåk, also known as Skjåk-Ola, was the most famous woodcarver in the north of Gudbrandsdalen and among the very best known in the country. He made very characteristic foliage in his carvings. His cabinets can be found, among other things, at Maihaugen, in the Norwegian Folk Museum and in the Museum of Art and Industry. Despite a distinctive style, Skjåk-Ola’s cabinets are often confused with other woodcarvers, so you have to look carefully at details and provenance to determine their authenticity. The style is often powerful or rough, but at the same time symmetrical and very elaborate.
Wooden spoons were most often used as a less expensive alternative to silver spoons. These spoons are very beautiful and elaborate in the detailed carvings carried out by Rasmus Elvesæter himself. Such spoons were personal and often had initials – not of the artist, but of the owner of the spoon. These were common in the mid-19th century. Back then, people had a different relationship to hygiene and the spoons had to be licked clean before putting them in the communal dish.
These were used for porridge when going away in company. It was actually common for guests to take their food with them when they went to parties.
Made from cow horns and used for storing gunpowder when hunting. They were often very elaborate with carvings and decoration.