Norwegian artists generally followed many of the trends of European art. And generally speaking, Norwegian art is considered part of the larger Scandinavian art category.
Viking art was one of the leading periods of not only Norwegian art but was a prominent period in European art at the time it thrived. Evidence of Viking art can be found across Scandinavia, Iceland, and the British Isles. Metalwork was particularly popular, like what can be seen in penannular brooches (similar to what Ned Stark wears in Game of Thrones), weathervanes, weapons, jewelry, and coins. Viking ships also have a very distinct shape. Sculptures called runestones dot the countryside across Scandinavia and other Northern countries. These runestones are often highly carved but can vary depending on the time and location in which they were created.
Johan Christian Dahl is often considered the “Father of Norwegian Landscape Painting.” He led the way for other landscape painters like Johannes Flintoe, Adolph Tidemand, Kitty Kielland, and Harriet Backer.
The latter part of the 1800s saw a rise in the prominent artistic movements of the day: Impressionism and Neo-Romanticism. Artists like Harald Sohlberg, Lars Hertervig, Frits Thaulow, Christian Krohg, Nikolai Astrup, and Thorolf Holmboe were among the more prominent artists in these movements.
Probably the most well-known Norwegian artist is Edvard Munch (pronounced like “monk,” not “munch”). He helped to influence the Symbolism and Expressionism movements. Munch’s famous painting, “The Scream,” is recognized throughout the world. It’s always been a favorite of mine for many reasons. It perfectly sums up working a corporate job.
The vast majority of Norwegian literature is written in the Norwegian language, at least in modern times. The earliest forms of literature were the Eddic poems of the 9th and 10th centuries. Many inscriptions were written in the runic alphabet during this time period. However, as Christianity spread, they also brought along the Latin alphabet. Old Norse literature was often linked to Icelandic literary traditions, and they shared many commonalities. During this time, religious texts, historical accounts, and stories chronicling the kings were quite common.
However, from about the latter part of the 1300s up until their independence, Norwegian literature saw a latent period. Nothing significant was written during this time, or at least, there wasn’t much evidence of any. Henrik Ibsen referred to this period as the “Four Hundred Years of Darkness.” I mean, there were some works that stemmed from this era, but in comparison with times before and after, it was pretty lacking. More like “Four Hundred Years of Writers Block.”
After Norway gained its independence, there was a surge in many of the cultural arts, literature included. The first university was established in what is now Oslo in 1811, three years before their independence. From that point, Oslo and other cities became havens for writers to hone their craft and publish books and papers in Norwegian, spreading across Scandinavia and then the world. The “father of a new Norwegian literature” is often attributed to Henrik Wergeland. While Germany had the Brothers Grimm and Denmark had Hans Christian Andersen, Norway had Peter Asbjørnsen and Bishop Jørgen Moe to spread Norwegian folk tales.
As the late 19th century rolled around, four Norwegian writers became quite prominent—dubbed The Great Four—Alexander Kielland, Jonas Lie, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen is mostly known for his plays, especially A Doll’s House and A Wild Duck (both of which I’ve read). When I graduated from high school, a friend of mine who I had acted with gave me a copy of six plays by Ibsen. I still have it on my shelf. And of course, he’s a staple in college literature classes.
As we rolled over into the 20th century, literature took on much more of a social and political commentary and a post-modern standpoint. There have been three Norwegian writers who have won Nobel Prizes in Literature: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903, Union between Sweden and Norway), Knut Hamsun (1920), and Sigrid Undset (1928, born in Denmark).
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