The exhibition Luz del Norte (Northern Light) looks at the differences and convergence of the main art centres and the Nordic countries at the turn of the century. The stylistic trends and pictorial languages developed between 1878 and 1912 unfold to reveal one hundred paintings created by forty six artists from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
The work of these Nordic artists can be perceived as a distinctive interpretation of Neo-romanticism, Realism, Symbolism, Expressionsim and Modernism, substantiated by the adoption of certain apects of successive art movements (demonstrated by the contact with different European circles by means of travel, visits, academies, and participation in exhibitions and shows). Kasper Monrad, the exhibition's joint curator with Ylva Rouse, indicates that the interpretation of these diverse movements is based on the, “will to bestow vehemently national expression upon their work”. This recognition of the nation through art (specifically through landscape) imbues an exultant pantheistic attitude; nature takes precedence over the city and becomes the focal point of Nordic painting in which the artist takes an approach based on experience and the desire for authenticity.
The collection of works here unearth the complete dominance of naturalist figuration found rooted in (or indebted to) French Naturalism, namely the painting of Jules-Bastien Lepage. The life and work on the land and the representation of the different times of day dominate their interests. This can be seen in Boy with a Crow (1884) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela; The Wage Slaves and Burning the Brushwood (1893) by Eero Järnefelt and The Sallow Flute (1889) by Christian Skredsvig. Domestic life and scenes of the household point to the painters' inclination towards the cultivation of intimacy and the allusion to the vital tragedy of being human; these works invoke melancholia, solitude, and death and incite a transcendental reading of the images, for instance in Albert Edelfelt's A Child's Funeral (1879) and Hugo Simberg's Wounded Angel (1903). Furthermore, nineteenth-century Realism and the rhetorical influence of numerous painters draw attention to the social intentions of the themes represented, as in Harald Slott-Møller's The Poor: The Waiting Room of Death (1888).
The aim of the exhibition is to eliminate the prejudice of isolation surrounding Nordic countries by alluding to the Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Paul Cézanne exhibitions organised in Copenhagen between 1891 and 1895. It also signals Nordic artists' preference for developing their artwork in the German cities Berlin and Munich, rather than Paris, thus bringing them closer to Expressionist groups and the Secession. The presence of Edvard Munch in Berlin in 1892 is also significant as it steers Nordic painting into the avant-garde scene.
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona (June 2 - July 16, 1995)
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