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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Christian Krohg

Albertine at the Police Doctor's Waiting Room, 1885-87, Christian Krohg                      
Christian Krohg Self-portrait, 1888
Ordinarily I write mostly about painters, with the occasional sculptor, photographer, architect, or movie maker thrown in for variety. A long parade of painters, no matter how skilled, would get incredibly monotonous, despite the fact most of them, individually, are anything but. However, if that were the case with the Norwegian painter, Christian Krohg, I probably wouldn't write about him at all. Though he was an academically trained painter of some local repute in Norway, he was neither outstanding as to what he painted nor how he painted. However, in the case of Christian Krohg, he could write as well as he could paint, perhaps even better. In fact, his first major creative success came not as a painter but as a novelist with the publication of his first book, Albertine, in 1886. It was a quite detailed story of the book's namesake who happened to be a prostitute. The book was banned for a time after it first came out. Beyond writing about them, Krohg painted numerous portraits of them. Whether he had any more personal involvement with them, history doesn't record. But it does record, sometimes in his own hand, and in a very straight-forward, frank and friendly manner, a fascinating account of life in late 19th-century Norway. You see, Christian Krohg was not just a painter, illustrator, and novelist, he was also a journalist.

Hard Le, 1882, Christian Krohg.  His seafaring paintings are among his best works.
Fighting for Existence, 1889,
Christian Krohg
Christian Krohg was born in 1852, the son of a Norwegian lawyer and statesman, the grandson of a government minister for whom he was named. He first studied law at the University of Oslo then switched to his true love, art, attending the Baden School of Art in Karlsruhe, Germany. Then, as any good art student had to do at the time, he went to Paris for another year (1881) where he was attracted to the rebellious Realists painters. Krohg became on of the leaders in the movement away from Romanticism toward what the French called Naturalism and what became known later in the U.S. as Social Realism. His work compares favorably with that of Daumier and Goya a generation before, while rivaling that of his contemporaries, Courbet, Millet, and Manet. Had he remained in Paris, he might have risen to their level in the tomes of art history.

Leiv Eiriksson Discovers America,1893, Christian Krohg
Oda Krohg, 1886, Christian Krohg
Instead, Krohg took up residence in Skagann, Denmark, (that country's northernmost town) where he became an influence for the Danish husband and wife painters, Anna and Michael Ancher, who, in turn, were to influence the early 20th-century Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch. (His work was a real Scream.) As he returned to his own country, Krohg once more took up his bent for literary creativity, becoming the publisher of the Bohemian journal, Impressionisten in 1886. From there he moved up to the big time as a writer for Oslo's biggest newspaper, Verdens Gang (The World's Time) for the next twenty years. In 1888, he married one of his students, Oda Lasson (right), who became a well-known Norwegian artist in her own right. Their son, Per Lasson Krohg, also became an artist, the muralist responsible for the tapestry mural (below) which today hangs above the meeting place for the United Nations Security Council in New York. His son, Christian Krohg's grandson, Guy Krohg, is also a noted painter, illustrator, and scenographer.

United Nations Security Council tapestry mural by Per Lasson Krohg.
17 Mai 1893. Norway's Constitution Day.
1798, Christian Krohg
During the years writing for Verdens Gang, Christian Krohg once more took up portraiture, not with paint, but with words, producing what he termed "portrait interviews." During the final years of his life, Krohg became a professor and director of the Statens Kunstakademi (The Norwegian Academy of Arts.) until his death in 1926 at the age of seventy-four. It was the perfect position for such a man, one who knew art, and proved it in his paintings, but also a man having a way with words. Teaching require as much a mastery of one as the other.

Christian Krohg Self-portrait, 1912.
I like an artist whose modest enough to paint a self-portrait while hiding behind his easel.

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