"Harald Sohlberg is a really superb painter...to see his artworks come together, in one place, and in Oslo as well as London, will be quite special."
Ellen Lerberg, Senior Curator for Education at the National Museum in Oslo (Nasjonalmuseet).
Harald Sohlberg – Taking Norwegian Painting From Oslo to Dulwich
Ellen Lerberg is the Senior Curator for Education at the National Museum in Oslo (Nasjonalmuseet). To coincide with a major exhibition on the Norwegian artist, Harald Sohlberg (1869-1935), which has been developed in collaboration with the Dulwich Picture Gallery, British Council Norway spoke to Ellen about her thoughts on what will be the final exhibition at the old National Gallery building in Oslo, and before it comes to London in January 2019.
What’s your involvement with the exhibition?
I am mainly responsible for the interpretation programme, which involves overseeing how the texts for each of the artworks are written, and how these are shared around the gallery so that our visitors can understand what the exhibition is actually about. To achieve this, I’ve worked really closely with other members of the team: Mai Britt Guleng, who is the Curator, and Rikke Lundgren, who is the Project Leader. Together we have developed the exhibition concept in a way that makes sense for a broad audience – in both Norway and Britain.
What’s been the highlight for you, thus far, when it comes to the planning process?
Harald Sohlberg is a really superb painter, but his work has not been shown very regularly, even his country of birth. In fact, this is his first solo-show in more than 20 years. So to see his artworks come together, in one place, and in Oslo as well as London will be quite special. But equally, to see how the public react will be interesting. When the exhibition opens in the UK I know that it will have a fairly different audience to contend with, and I look forward to seeing what the British make of this most Norwegian of painters.
How did this exhibition idea come about in the first place?
Over the last ten years the National Gallery, which is part of the National Museum, has made a concerted effort to curate a major exhibition on one Norwegian artist per year. This has allowed for more recent scholarship on the history of art in our country, and on the work of artists such as Erik Werenskiold, Christian Krohg, Gerhard Munthe. One of the reasons for choosing Sohlberg in 2018 and 2019 is that next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth.
Could you describe Sohlberg’s art for an audience who don’t know his work?
Sohlberg was a painter of the Norwegian landscape, but unlike many artists from his period, he chose to represent the scenery around him in a highly symbolist manner. In other words, he was not interested so much in realism or naturalism, but in the way in which the landscape was internally experienced by its inhabitants. One sees monumental mountains rising in a snowy winter landscape, contrasting with strongly coloured red, orange and gold sunsets by the Oslo Fjord. The result is arresting and extremely modern for its time.
Why is Sohlberg so important for a Norwegian audience today?
I think it is due to the way in which his contemplative landscapes remind people to take notice of their surroundings, but also relish in a natural environment which has always been special for Norwegians, regardless of time or place. There is also no denying that his paintings are very beautiful! I hope that the exhibition’s British audience might find some fascination with Sohlberg’s paintings, and come away with a sense of calm that relates to the nature of the north.
Is this the first time that the NG Oslo has worked with a British organisation on a major exhibition like this?
It is indeed!
How have the National Gallery in Oslo and the Dulwich Picture Gallery shared the work-load on this exhibition?
We’ve worked on this exhibition for several years now, and throughout the preparation period there has been a close cooperation between the Curator working for Dulwich, Kathleen Soriano, and our Curator, Mai Britt Guleng. This has been on the selection of works, as well as various other elements. But because the shape and size of the exhibition galleries in the UK and Norway vary considerably, we have constantly been aware that both exhibitions will be fairly distinct from one another.
Do you think the move to the new museum will change the ‘international’ outlook of the National Museum and the organisation’s links with other institutions worldwide?
My hope is that the move, and the new building in which the National Gallery, Decorative Arts Museum and Contemporary Art Museum will be housed together for the first time, will lead to a range of opportunities with regards our co-operations and collaborations with international institutions. The new building, which is close to the Fjord at Vestbanen, will offer all sorts of prospects for the exhibition of more artworks and more artists. We will be able to show much more of our collection, for a start, and this might lead to better design concepts, too. I believe that Norway is about to enter an exciting era with regards to the fine arts, and the way in which Norwegian painters – like Sohlberg – are seen, understood and researched by a new and curious audience.
If you were to choose a British artist to exhibit in Oslo, who would you choose?
If I am really honest, my dream is that there will be a fantastic exhibition on E.H Shepard’s illustrations for Winne the Pooh! Or if not that, then I’d be happy with a display of work by the Bloomsbury Group, the fine drawings and artworks of Beatrix Potter, or early works by J.M.W. Turner.