Almost Forgotten Norwegian Romantic Painter Exhibits in National Gallery, London


When the prestigious National Gallery in London exhibits the Norwegian landscape painter Peder Balke as a modernistic pioneer it is quite an event.

In 1992 paintings by Edvard Munch was exhibited separately in London National Gallery. In 2010 the “Danish master of Light” Kristen Koebke was exhibited, and last week The National Gallery opened a separate exhibition with the Norwegian modernistic romantic painter, Peder Balke.

28 small paintings by the norwegian romantic painter Peder Balke, once purchased by King Louise Philippe of France, are still on the walls in Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Largely forgotten for more than a century, this Norwegian artist was ahead of his time and is only just being rediscovered and recognized as one of the forerunners of modernism, claims the National Gallery on their website.

This groundbreaking free exhibition is a collaboration with the Northern Norway Art Museum in Tromsoe and exhibits around 50 paintings representing every facet of the artist’s career travelling to London from private and public collections across Europe. The vast majority of these works have never been seen in the UK before.

Peder Balke (1804-1887) represents a link between the classical Koebke and the expressionist Munch. Balke was indeed born some years before Koebke, but lived almost four decades longer, and although both painters share romantic impulses, London Galley finds Balke’s experimental painting techniques particularly interesting.

Sadly Balke’s lack of commercial success, as well as his misfortunes in social projects, forced him to abandon his career as a painter; however his later endeavours as a property developer of housing for the poor, and as a politician, are fascinating and important in their own right. Nevertheless, the small scenes he then painted for his own pleasure are now recognized as highly original improvisations: they are more experimental – with Balke using brushwork or even his hands to suggest seascapes – and extraordinarily prescient of later expressionism.

161114-Peder-Balke-painting-on-norwegian-stampThe exhibition seems to be organized for visitors knowing almost nothing about Balke. Four completely different paintings from Balke’s North Cape are central in this exhibition. These paintings are painted in the course of four decades with shifting light conditions, color and representation of nature.

More than 60 paintings by Balke are exhibited at National Gallery through April 2015.

The exhibition is being curated by Christopher Riopelle, National Gallery Curator of Post-1800 Paintings, in collaboration with Knut Ljøgodt, Director of Northern Norway Art Museum, and Dr Marit Ingeborg Lange (formerly chief curator of the National Gallery of Oslo). Christopher Riopelle said:

”This long-overdue exhibition will highlight Peder Balke’s unique, innovative and virtuosic paintings of Scandinavian seascapes and we sincerely hope it will put an artist, who is richly deserving of recognition among a much wider audience, finally back on the map.”

The National Gallery owns just one painting by Peder Balke: ‘The Tempest‘ (about 1862), which was generously presented to the Gallery in 2010 by Danny and Gry Katz.

Knut Ljøgodt says, ”Peder Balke has only recently been recognized as one of the most outstanding painters of the romantic period. We are thrilled that the National Gallery collaborates with us on this – and we hope that a large, international public will discover Balke’s art. He deserves a place in the art history of the world – alongside Edvard Munch!”

About Peder Balke
Born into poverty on the Norwegian island of Helgøya (in Lake Mjøsa, Eastern Norway) in 1804, Peder Balke studied decorative painting in Christiania for two years from 1827. Determined to become an artist, in 1829 he transferred to Stockholm, where he was taught by the landscape painter Johann Fahlkrantz (Professor at the Art Academy). Balke was drawn to the landscape of Norway; he walked across much of its lower regions and, decisively, in 1832 travelled by ship to the North Cape, a rugged and largely inaccessible area of the country. There he found bleak and original landscape motifs which allowed him to define his highly individual painting style. He continued to explore these motifs in increasingly austere images throughout his career.