The 19th century marked the beginning of a new era for the art of painting in Norway. At the turn of the century portraits were extremely fashionable amongst the higher echelons of society and numerous Norwegian portrait painters made a living from painting the rich and powerful. Jacob Munch (1776-1839) was known as the great empirical portraiter and followed a strict, correct style. The next generation of portrait painters was led by Matthias Stoltenberg (1799-1871), whose work had a softer, Biedermeier expression.
Then during the 1850s the art of photography was introduced and the portrait painters had to look elsewhere for work. Accordingly, over the following decades, Norwegian landscape painting came into its own. The poor state of the Norwegian economy in the aftermath of secession from Denmark precluded the development of any real infrastructural support for the fine arts. The new Oslo university did not include an art academy, and furthermore the lack of royal art patronage and the abolition of the aristocracy by the Storting in 1821 further reduced the already limited avenues of opportunity available to Norwegian artists, obliging them to find employment overseas. In this way the roots of Norwegian painting may be found in Dresden, the centre of German Romanticism. The Norwegian painter Johan Christian Dahl (1788- 1857), who was part of this milieu, eventually returned to capture the landscapes of western Norway in paintings which have since been regarded as a definitive image of Norway itself. Dahl’s work gave the Norwegian landscape an artistic form and defined Norway in painting for the first time.
Norway’s new-found independence from Denmark also raised issues of national identity, and during the 1830s and 1840s a conscious effort was made by artists and intellectuals to define what it meant to be Norwegian. At this time a central role was played in raising general Norwegian cultural awareness by the first Arts Society (established by J C Dahl in 1836) which also played a central role in the development of a Norwegian art market.