No work of art exists completely independently of the works of other artists. It often seems natural to compare artists who lived at about the same time or with similar formal problems or subject matter. Lars Hertervig and Mattias Härenstam represent different periods in history, different material choices and approaches to artistic practice. Nevertheless, the visual and thematic connections between these two artists’ practices make the encounter between their works an interesting starting point for an exhibition.
Lars Hertervig (1830–1902) has held a central position in Norwegian art history since 1914, when his works were showcased in Norges Jubileumsutstillingen, an exhibition marking the centennial anniversary of the Norwegian Constitution. His beautiful and richly detailed oil paintings and works on paper have fascinated the public at large. His pictures range from landscapes to figural scenes, but most are depictions of wilderness in the district of Ryfylke. And while his early compositions fully accord with a National Romantic view of art, he eventually developed a colour palette and painterly modus that imbued his pictures a timeless and personal expression.
Themes in Hertervig’s works often relate to an experience of forces in nature. In the famous painting Old Pine Trees (1865), large trees with gnarled branches loom over minuscule human beings who walk through what seems like a primeval forest. He repeatedly painted these apparently prehistoric landscapes that we experience as overwhelming and alarming, despite their clear geographical connection.
Mattias Härenstam (b. 1971) has a background as a video artist, but in recent years he has worked with wood and stone sculpture. Characteristic for these newer works is that they show his will to explore material possibilities and his strong interest in craftsmanship. At the same time, figurative details such as human intestines, stained teeth or isolated cabins evoke a sense of foreboding. It is as if Härenstam cuts beyond the tree bark, deep into the cracks of the rock and draws forth truths we would rather not see.
The juxtaposition of these two artists’ works also highlights the relation between the painted three-dimensionality in Hertervig’s paintings and the experience of Härenstam’s three-dimensional sculptures. Häremstam’s sculpture En etterglemt (A Forgotten, 2016), with its complex branching structure and leached appearance, brings to mind many of Hertervig’s trees. The meeting between sculpture and painting draws us in many ways even deeper into Hertervig’s pictorial world. The broad gestures in Härenstam’s three-dimensional works invite a close reading of the details in Hertervig’s painted universe.
The exhibition is curated by Inger M.L. Gudmundson and Hanne Beate Ueland, in collaboration with Museum Educator Elin Lillebråten.