Paintings from five Bergen neighborhoods
A virtual tour starting from Grieg’s first home
MARY JO THORSHEIM
“On the street where he lived …” Remember the similar title of a popular song from the musical My Fair Lady with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner? Strandgaten in Bergen was the street where Edvard Grieg was born. He lived there at number 152 the first few years of his life before his family moved to Landås in Bergen. His adult home at Troldhaugen is most famous, but it is interesting to know of other places he lived.
Looking at five amazing paintings of Bergen that are now at Norway Art® in Minneapolis, I wonder how the locations of the paintings might relate to the Strandgaten address. Each of the paintings represents a different neighborhood in Bergen. The following story takes us from districts northwest to southeast of the city center (sentrum), beginning at the orientation point of Strandgaten.
Strandgaten 152 is on the left side, across the water from Bryggen, when viewed from Vågen. Puddefjorden is located across the water from Strandgaten, to the far left, northwest of Bryggen.
“Net Fishing in Bergen, 1895” by Julius Holck (1846-1911)
The inlet of Puddefjorden in the city of Bergen is bordered by Laksevåg on the west and Nordnes on the east; it is the location of this painting. The central figure is a fisherman in the foreground, with Askøy in the distance and a beautifully tinted sky in the background. He is wearing a hat and waders and is using a purse seine. Maybe he was fishing for sei or cod for middag (dinner)?
Holck was born in Bergen and lived there all of his life. As a young man, he could not afford art studies so he trained as a mechanic and worked on a steamship. After he returned home to Bergen, he quickly turned to the formal study of art.
“Old Bergen 1941” by Jakob Weidemann (1923-1991)
Moving southeast from Puddefjorden, we come to a very old neighborhood just northwest of sentrum that is the site of Jakob Weidemann’s stunning painting. In his unique abstract style, he depicts the narrow, steep streets lined with close-set buildings constructed wall-to-wall many years before. The streets are like alleys between the buildings.
The Weidemann painting reminds me of the surroundings of a very old building at Ladegårdsgaten 28D that was owned by my great aunt, Tante Lena (Helene) Thorsheim Meland. Its multiple apartments on three stories housed Tante, many renters, and three of her adult daughters, as well as a street-level grocery. After World War II, there was a tremendous need for housing in Norway, and 28D was crowded.
Weidemann pioneered abstract art in Norway after World War II. His style was known as “lyrically abstract.” The painting of “Old Bergen in 1941” during the grim years of Nazi occupation shows this singing spirit. Where did Weidemann live in Bergen? Maybe in the neighborhood of the painting? His family moved to Bergen from Oslo in 1934. In 1944, Weidemann joined the Norwegian resistance movement.
“View of Bergen from Skansen” and “Skansen Neighborhood” [middle right] by Andreas Grynne
“View of Bergen from Skansen” and “Skansen Neighborhood” date from the 1950s. Both of these paintings show the vista from a location in Bergen that is rarely seen by tourists: Skansen. Familiar landmarks may be identified in “View of Bergen.”
Arne Sortland of Bergen recently reminisced about the painting of the Skansen neighborhood where he once lived:
“It is from Skanselien toward Vågen and Askøy in the background at right. The white house at the left is Skansen fire station and the small dam is Skansedammen.”
Nothing has changed around the viewing point—Skansen—except for the pond and the sculpture park around it.
Grynne was a popular post-World War II painter who was one of many artists who tried to earn income after the deprivation caused by the Nazi occupation of Norway. They produced paintings in large numbers and went house to house selling them. Grynne also called at offices and businesses. According to Agnes Nedregård, Grynne’s paintings were truly “art for the people.”
“Fra Kalfarliveien 1956” by Margarethe Koch (1890-1964) [lower right]
This is a portrait of a fine house and its setting southeast of sentrum. Notable features of the painting include light, summery colors with strong accents, such as the lush Norway maple tree with its rich deep maroon foliage. Delightful details include beekeeping boxes at the back of the property.
Bergen’s Koch began art training in 1902 and later became a student of Norway’s famous artist, Harriet Backer. Koch’s work shows the influence of Backer in her own style of naturalism.
Bergen offers a treasury of art. Explore the city through art now and visit its neighborhoods when you are able to travel again. As they say in Bergen, ha det!
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 23, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.