Norwegian paintings sell like hot cakes

Norwegian artists made up the largest component of the Scandinavian sale at one of London’s most prestigious auction houses on 27 June. Among the works which sold for over their pre-sale estimates were masterpieces by major names such as Edvard Munch, Thomas Fearnley, Peder Balke, Frits Thaulow and Odd Nerdrum.

The most important – and most valuable – work of the sale was a re-discovered work by Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928). Entitled ‘Soleinatt, Jølster’ (White Night, Buttercups at Jølster), Astrup’s powerful depiction of Ålhus, a farm near his family home, had been sent for sale by Pacific Lutheran University in Washington State and achieved a price of £264,000. Unknown to scholars in the field, the work was left to the university in 1999 by a member of the local Lutheran community – the forefathers of whom first settled in Washington state back in the early 1900s. (The end of the 19th century saw an enormous influx of Scandinavian – and particularly Norwegian - settlers into the Pacific Northwest: by 1910, Scandinavians were the largest ethnic group in Washington, constituting more than 20 percent of the foreign-born population). The farm depicted in this impressive, large scale oil lies close to the town of Jølster, in Norway, where Astrup’s father was the local pastor, and it incorporates and explores the two themes that preoccupied Astrup throughout his artistic life: the farming community and the primal forces of the natural world.

The father of modern Norwegian painting, Edvard Munch (1863-1944), was represented by an early oil entitled ‘Hage med rødt hus’ (Garden with Red House), which came from the collection of the renowned American collector Stanley J. Seeger and which, painted in the early days of Munch’s career, sold for £108,000 against a pre-sale estimate of £50,000-70,000.

Five oils by Thomas Fearnley (1802-42) and three by Peder Balke (1804-1887) were a further highlight of the Norwegian offerings. Fearnley, the most distinguished Norway landscape artist of his generation, was an artist who travelled extensively and his works explore the huge variety of landscapes that he crossed in his quest to record nature and his changing surroundings. Fernley’s works ‘Sawmill, Gollingen’ sold for £10,200, ‘From Brunnen, Tyskland’ went for £4,800, and ‘At the Foot of the Mountains’ achieved £4,800.

Balke, in comparison, recorded the drama and grandeur of Norway’s seas and shoreline in compositions that show enormous visual power and atmosphere in spite of their typically small size and monochromatic palette and his principal source of inspiration was a trip he made to northern Norway in the early 1830s. Balke’s ‘Uvær ved kysten’ (Threatening Weather) sold for £96,000 against a pre-sale estimate of £40,000-60,000.

Odd Nerdrum (b. 1944) is among the leading figurative Norwegian painters of the Post War era and his oil, ‘The Animal Stone’, sold for £84,000. The study, which was executed in 1987, shows a single figure standing within an elliptical hollow of black volcanic rock. The man wears the medieval skull cap with which Nerdrum crowns so many of his protagonists and across his chest is strung a bow. The work came to auction at a time when interest in Nerdrum is stronger than ever, following a recent exhibition in New York.

Following the successful Scandinavian Sale, Ingeborg Astrup, head of Sotheby’s Norway, commented: “Continuing Sotheby’s tradition of success in this field, today’s results represent the highest ever total for a Scandinavian Sale held at Sotheby’s and they highlight the strength and depth of the market for Scandinavian Art. Exceptional prices were seen across the board this afternoon and we are thrilled with the price achieved for the masterpiece by the Swedish artist August Strindberg, which is not only a new auction record for the artist but also for a work by any Swedish artist. We are encouraged by the exceptional prices realised for leading Norwegian names such as Edvard Munch, Peder Balke and Nikolai Astrup. Works by Contemporary Norwegian artists were also strongly competed for, with the auction careers of Odd Nerdrum, Bjorn Ransve and Leonard Rickhard gathering further momentum. Both Scandinavian and international bidders were out in force, proving the ever expanding profile of Scandinavian Art.”

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Odd Nerdrum, 'The animal stone', oil on canvas. Sold for: £84,000.

Peder Balke, 'Uvær ved kysten', oil on board. Sold for: £96,000.

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