Arendal shows rare WWII art paintings

The 100-some work collection gives insight into art life in occupied Norway

Photo courtesy of Bomuldsfabriken One of the pieces in the exhibit, an illustration by Ingeborg Gude.

Photo courtesy of Bomuldsfabriken
One of the pieces in the exhibit, an illustration by Ingeborg Gude.

Manisha Choudhari & Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

The exhibition takes place in the 75th year following Nazi Germany’s invasion and occupation of Norway and 70 years following the Scandinavian country’s liberation. It is the first to examine the artists’ war experiences and how these experiences are reflected in their works. Many of the works displayed have never been exhibited publically before.

Bomuldsfabriken Kunsthall curator Kathryn Lund told NRK that this topic is still “very difficult, too close, and painful” for individuals and their families.

“I met people who have asked me not to focus on their relatives and what they did during the war during my work with preparing for this exhibition. However, we believe it’s easier to talk openly about how dramatic and difficult it was then, what with the war generation largely passed,” she commented.

Through their works, visitors will be able to encounter artists in everyday life, see their struggle in prison camps, in exile.

The public will also be able to see them when they were working for the occupying forces and Nasjonal Samlingen (NS), founded by then Minister of Defense Vidkun Quisling.

Lund is particularly struck by one work entitled “Israel’s People,” created by Sweden-born Norwegian painter Henrik Sørensen (1882-1962). Sørensen, who had also created works under WWI, was awarded the Swedish Prince Eugen Medal, conferred by the King of Sweden, in 1947.

“You can see the fear written on their faces. It’s a small painting, but with a fierce power of expression,” she said. “People weren’t aware of the Jews’ situation, but knew quite a bit.”

University of Oslo Professor Emeritus Hans Fredrik Dahl at the Department of Media and Communication writes about Henrik Sørensen in his 2007 book Quisling: A Study in Treachery (ISBN 9780521041157, Cambridge University Press).

“Many Norwegians […] and the painter Henrik Sørensen among them were actively engaged in private peace initiatives (involving the German legation).”

HM King Haakon VII had turned down the German legation in Norway’s demands to appoint Vidkun Quisling to the post of Prime Minister on April 10, 1940, and would not take a position on the issue without first consulting the government.

The one-page royal decree that HM and the Norwegian government signed became known as “The King’s no” (Kongens nei).

Several of the paintings featured in Bomuldsfabriken Kunsthall’s exhibition have been borrowed from private sources.

Director Harald Solberg feels that it has something to convey to people living in 2015. “The visual qualities are one thing, but the cognitive ones are certainly another,” he told NRK. “Taking care of freedom of expression is more important than ever what with the current state of the world, and that’s one of the exhibition’s messages.”

“Krigsbilder: Kunst under okkupasjonen 1940-45” (“War Images: Art during the 1940-45 Occupation”) runs until August 23 this year.

The exhibition’s opening hours are Thursday-Sunday between 12:00 and 4:00 p.m. Entry is free.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the July 3, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.