At the turn of the century, the Nordic countries--Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden--experienced a golden age both in art and letters. A good number of the writers achieved international recognition. Few of the painters did or have. In this country, the major exceptions are the Norwegian Expressionist, Edvard Munch, and more recently, the Swede, Carl Larsson, whose paintings of idyllic family scenes have been popularized through the greeting card industry. Between Munch's "screams" and Larsson's pacific smiles, what must one imagine of Nordic art?
"Northern Light," encompassing works of 43 artists between 1880 and roughly 1910, opens up the doors to a treasure house. Here are Vilhelm Hammershoi's empty rooms, studies in light, space and silence; Christian Krohg's aggressive portraits of society's victims; Prins Eugen's seductive fin de siecle woods; Harriet Backer's self-contained blue interiors; Akseli Gallen-Kallela's mythic peasants and unmasked bohemians; Thorarinn B. Thorlaksson's "lunar" landscapes; Bruno Liljeforss's primitive, powerful birds; Peder Severin Kroyer's women in white walking close to the shore. Overall, the techniques tend toward a provocative, potentially unnerving blend of realism and an even greater symbolism, at the same time as the mood is meditative, often melancholic.
The editor of "Northern Light" is Kirk Varnedoe, professor of fine arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and adjunct curator in the department of painting and sculpture of the Museum of Modern Art. As he explains, "The origins of the present book lie in a publication prepared to accompany the exhibition 'Northern Light: Realism and Symbolism in Scandinavian Painting, 1880-1910,' " which was shown in Washington, Brooklyn, Minneapolis and Goteborg (Sweden) in 1982-83. Aimed at a broader public, "Northern Light: Nordic Art at the Turn of the Century" is an elaboration in scope, format and color reproductions of the original exhibition publication.