In Nordic Landscape Painting in the Nineteenth Century, a richly illustrated book, Torsten Gunnarsson provides for the first time a comprehensive study of landscape painting in Scandinavia during its vital period of development in the nineteenth century. Scandinavia’s search for a national identity, combined with its strong sense of communion with nature, fueled a growing interest in landscape painting in the 1800s. Gunnarsson shows how the magnificent wilderness became a symbol of Nordic strength and vigor, as well as a counter-image to industrialization and European urban culture.
The development of landscape art in the Scandinavian countries often acquired the character of a dialogue with European traditions, yet painting in the individual countries took divergent routes. Nordic Landscape Painting in the Nineteenth Century identifies and analyzes the different types of landscape painting that dominated the separate countries, beginning with the cultivated landscape, shaped by man, that was the typical subject in Danish Golden Age art up to 1850. Interest in the classical landscape, prominent in Nordic art in the first half of the century, shifted in Norway and Sweden beginning in the late 1840s and focused increasingly on the northern wilderness and the sublime qualities that it represented.
Toward the end of the century, landscape painting became an important tool for defining the national character of the Scandinavian countries, particularly Finland, which was struggling for independence from Russia, and Norway, which broke out of its union with Sweden in 1905. As the Symbolist landscape achieved its breakthrough in all the Nordic countries and dominated the mood paintings of the National Romantics, this period generated many of the great masterpieces of Nordic landscape painting.
Torsten Gunnarsson is Head of Collections at the National Museum, Stockholm.