August 18, 2014
The joint history of Kunsthall Stavanger’s building and that of the Romantic painter Lars Hertervig was what inspired Swiss artist Nicolas Party to pay homage to the local artist in his current exhibition at Kunsthall Stavanger. Even though Party's exhibition, titled Landscape, closed on August 10, the four galleries dedicated to Hertervig's work will reopen on August 23 and remain open until November, under the new title The Hertervig Rooms. Here, Mirja Majevski, curatorial intern at Kunsthall Stavanger, recounts the story of Hertervig and one of the largest collections of his works.
Born 1830 in to a family of poor farmers, Lars Hertervig went on to pursue an unusual career in painting. With financial support from more privileged citizens who recognized his talent, Hertervig entered the Royal Drawing School in Christiania (Oslo) and proceeded to study under Romantic landscape painters Hans Gude and Erik Bodom at the acclaimed Arts Academy of Düsseldorf. However, before completing his studies, Hertervig suffered an outbreak of mental illness. After spending one and a half years in Gaustad asylum in Christiania, he permanently settled in his native Stavanger area. Though Hertervig’s diagnose, first with melancholia and later with dementia, has been much debated, one thing is certain; labeled as “incurably insane” and isolated from the art world Hertervig went on to develop a unique and personal painting style.
During the years Hertervig slowly shifted from depicting attentive and romanticized experience of nature in Southwestern Norway towards dream worlds filled with ambiguous symbols, fanciful forests, horses and riders. From sinister storms to placid waters, throughout his oeuvre he explored the quality of light, and portrayed nature under diverse atmospheric conditions.
In the later half of his life Hertervig experienced financial difficulties that eventually lead him to live in poverty. Alongside painting he worked odd jobs, decorated furniture and exchanged images for everyday goods. As he no longer could afford oil colors and canvas he mainly painted with watercolors and gouache on newspaper, tobacco paper and wrapping paper.
Hertervig’s breakthrough came twelve years after his death, when his works were exhibited at the Jubilee Exhibition in Christiania in 1914. Today his extraordinary coast and forest landscapes are regarded amongst the most remarkable achievements in Norwegian painting.
A notable Hertervig collection – over seventy works on canvas, paper and wood – is held in Stavanger Art Museum. Before 1992, when the collection was moved to large purpose-build premises at the shore of lake Mosvatenet, it was on permanent display at Madlaveien 33, the building that now houses Kunsthall Stavanger. Stavanger Permanent Gallery (Stavanger Faste Galleri), as the collection was initially called, grew out of the Stavanger Art Association, from which also Kunsthall Stavanger originates.
In 1966, Stavanger Permanent Gallery was established as an independent foundation and given the old part of the then newly annexed building for its permanent display. Here one could find the prepossessing Hertervig-room (Hertervigsalen) packed tight with masterpieces such as "Rullestadjuvet", "Fjordbunn III" and "Gamle Furutrær", accompanied by modest bronze sculptures portraying the venerable artist.
For more information about the collection and Lars Hertervig visit Stavanger Art Museum.
Kunsthall Stavanger would like to thank May Johannessen at Stavanger Art Museum for her assistance.
Top image: Lars Hertervig, Gamle Furutrær (Old Pine Trees), 1865. All rights reserved Stavanger Art Museum. Photo: Dag Myrestrand/Bitmap.