Nordic Art

The Modern Breakthrough 1860 – 1920

30 May – 6 October 2013

The Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation showed a magnificent survey with 125 paintings from the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) created during the transition to Modernism. Masterpieces by Edvard Munch, Anders Zorn, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, August Strindberg, Helene Schjerfbeck and Vilhelm Hammershøi were juxtaposed in a fascinating dialogue with works by almost 60 outstanding painters who were virtually unknown in Germany. With a diverse range of themes, the exhibition set out to demonstrate how these artists had searched for and discovered connections and divisions among the emerging Nordic nations that had risen above their national borders.

The Nordic way

Spurred on by curiosity, but also by the lack of opportunities for artistic instruction, or by its perceived rigidity in their home countries, many Nordic artists travelled to European cities with important academies of art, like Duesseldorf or Munich, in the second half of the 19th century. Paris held particular appeal with its highly diverse art scene. With boundless enthusiasm, the painters struck out on new paths, assimilated impulses and, in so doing, redefined their own cultural identity. By networking with other European artists and taking part in important exhibitions throughout Europe, they fostered the development of a self-contained artistic form. Not only did this lead to independent Nordic variations on Realism, Impressionism and Symbolism, but the Nordic artists passed on significant impulses to their contemporaries in the south.

Entry into the Modern Age

The German title of the exhibition “Aus Dämmerung und Licht” (Of Dawn and Light) expressed the unique moods captured by the Nordic painters in their pictures. In this, their perception of landscape obviously played a central role. Yet, even everyday country or city life, with its underlying social issues, was imbued with this atmospheric symbolism. The title also epitomised the cultural and social upheaval taking place in the Nordic countries at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The “Modern Breakthrough” challenged the traditional perception of aesthetics and morality and took a critical look at the living conditions in these nations that were in a state of flux. Even the geographical borders of the Nordic countries changed during this era as they gained their independence, Norway in 1905, Finland in 1917 and Iceland in 1918. The artists contributed actively to their home countries’ journey towards self-discovery and social change.

Unique survey

The growing interest in Nordic art over the past few years had led to numerous monographic exhibitions in Europe and the USA. The Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation had also organized extensive retrospectives on the works of Munch, Larsson, Zorn, and most recently, Hammershøi. This legitimate interest in the outstanding artistic quality of Nordic painters then found its culmination in this unique survey featuring works by national masters like Prince Eugen (Sweden), P.S. Krøyer (Denmark), Magnus Enckell (Finland), Christian Krohg (Norway) or Thórarinn Thorláksson (Iceland).

The exhibition was conceived as part of a scientific research project by Prof. David Jackson, specialist for Russian and Scandinavian Art at the University of Leeds, and was a collaboration between the Kunsthalle of the Hypo Cultural Foundation with the Groninger Museum. The research project was founded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council of Great Britain

A comprehensive catalogue has been published by Hirmer Verlag Munich in three languages (German, English, Dutch) with articles by David Jackson, Per Hedström, Timo Huusko, Peter Nørgaard Larsson and Nils Ohlsen.