Saturday, November 04, 2023

Peder Balke – The Spell of the Arctic (exhibition)

Peder Balke (1804–1887): Nordkapp / North Cape (detail), 1848. The Gundersen Collection, Oslo. Photo: The Gundersen Collection / Morten Heden Aamot. From: Sinebrychoff Art Museum.

Claudia de Brün (ed.): Peder Balke: Arktisen lumo – Förtrollad av Arktis – The Spell of the Arctic. The catalogue. Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2023. Cover art: Peder Balke, «De syv søstre» / The Seven Sisters. Olje på treplate. 25 x 31 cm. Usignert. 1845-50. The Gundersen Collection.

Sinebrychoff Art Museum
Bulevardi 40
00120 Helsinki, Finland

OFFICIAL CAPSULE: " The Norwegian painter Peder Balke (1804–1887) is one of the most fascinating exponents of Romantic painting in Northern Europe. The views he saw on his trip to Northern Norway dominated his paintings throughout his life and Arctic landscapes became his hallmark. "

OFFICIAL INTRODUCTION: " The monographic exhibition presents Peder Balke´s life and work to a Finnish audience for the first time. Stormy seascapes, moonlight, northern lights, glaciers and snow-capped mountain ranges are recurrent themes. The paintings conjure up a world that few people know, even today, and which is threatened by climate change. "

" Peder Balke was one of the earliest painters to travel north of the Arctic Circle already in the 1830s. The Arctic landscape continued to inspire him to experiment with new painting techniques decades after his journey. Nature plays the main role in Balke’s paintings. "

" The exhibition, produced by the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, features 42 paintings by Balke, as well as works by his artist contemporaries from Norwegian and Swedish collections. The exhibition has been co-produced with Norway’s Nordic Institute of Art and curated by the Institute’s Director Knut Ljøgodt, Dr. philos., and the Director of the Sinebrychoff Art Museum Kirsi Eskelinen, PhD. "

CATALOGUE: Peder Balke: Arktisen lumo – Förtrollad av Arktis – The Spell of the Arctic.
Peder Balke – The Spell of the Arctic exhibition at Sinebrychoff Art Museum 21.9.2023–14.1.2024.
    Trilingual: in Finnish, Swedish and English.
    " The Norwegian artist Peder Balke (1804–1887) is one of the most exciting proponents of Romantic painting from Northern Europe. In 1832, he travelled to the northernmost areas of Norway, a journey which provided him with inspiration for the rest of his life. Balke depicted the Arctic landscape — mountains, the midnight sun and the northern lights. The paintings conjured up a world known by few, even today, and which is threatened by climate change. "
    Publisher: Sinebrychoff Art Museum, 2023.
    Editor: Claudia de Brün.
    Writers: Kirsi Eskelinen, Knut Knut Ljøgodt
    ISBN: 978-952-7371-59-6
    Size 19 x 22 cm, 152 pages.
    34 €

AA: This is my first encounter with the Norwegian Peder Balke, probably the greatest painter of the Arctic. He was a contemporary of Caspar David Friedrich and Ivan Aivazovsky and an equal master of Romanticism in landscape painting, particularly inspired by the mountains, the sea and the night. Their paintings are soulscapes. They fill us with fear and admiration.

All are in thrall of the sublime, in the classical sense of awesome, overwhelming and transcendent, in contrast to the beautiful. The Peder Balke exhibition can even be seen as something like a lesson and an introduction into the classical sublime.

The fascination of the night in Peder Balke's work is even more pronounced than in Caspar David Friedrich and Ivan Aivazovsky because the Arctic winter is the season of eternal night.

Balke's vision is more rugged, the motif of the glacier is distinctive. His art is one of austerity. His is an aesthetics of absence, even in his traditionally realistic phase.

After his family's stay in London where the work of J. W. M. Turner was on display, Balke's minimalism evolved in the direction of abstraction. His art of reduction even turned into black and white and miniature. A reason or a consequence of such a turn was that during his lifetime, Balke was never approved of in the official art circles in his land. During the last decades of his life he ceased to exhibit.

Balke's non finito works on tiny pieces of wood would not feel out of place in an exhibition of contemporary art. I read Harri Mäcklin's enthusiastic 14 Oct 2023 review in Helsingin Sanomat of this exhibition while still in Pordenone at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto. Mäcklin particularly emphasized the great discovery of the miniaturist phase.

It is a great dramatic coup by the curators that the miniature room is followed by the CinemaScope room of wall paintings. They are stark celebrations of the twin subjects of the heaven and the sea.

The Arctic is also the land of the nightless night in summer, but the glory of the midnight sun is absent here. November is the gloomiest month in Finland, and a colourist such as Rafael Wardi fills gallery rooms. But also Peder Balke is a success.

In the J. W. M. Turner room the curators remark that Balke switched his skyline lower having seen Turner. More sky. I remember the final scene in Steven Spielberg's The Fabelmans where John Ford (David Lynch) gives the youngster a lesson in skyline. And William K. Everson's observation of the skylines of the two masters of the Western, William K. Hart (high) and John Ford (low).

I am also thinking about Jean Sibelius and The Swan of Tuonela (Tuonela is the Land of Death in Finnish folklore), perhaps also because today is All Saints's Day, the Day of the Dead. Walt Disney wanted to include The Swan of Tuonela in the Fantasia Continued project and had the artwork prepared but shelved the project in wartime conditions. Only in the Fantasia Anthology: Fantasia Legacy (2000) project it was reconstructed. I feel such a strong Peder Balke connection in Disney's The Swan of Tuonela that it feels like an hommage.

The Peder Balke experience is a voyage towards eternity.

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