Gulbrand and Svend immigrate to Chicago

Gulbrand Sether

Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Thorsheim
“Winter Night” 1910. Gulbrand Sether (1860-1941) 16 x 20 inches.

Mary Jo Thorsheim
Norway Art

Gulbrand Sether (1860-1941) and Rasmussen Svendsen (1864-1945) were prominent Norwegian-American artists who immigrated to Chicago.

Sether was born in Nittedal, Norway, and Svendsen in Elverum. Sether immigrated in 1893 and Svendsen in 1881. Although we do not know if Sether and Svendsen knew one another, either in Norway or Chicago, it would not be surprising to find that they did. There are close parallels between the two that might have drawn them into the same social circles. 

It is interesting to compare some of the similarities between the two men. Their lives spanned approximately the same period of years. Sether was four years older than Svendsen and died four years before Svendsen. They emigrated from the nearby regions of Norway, northwest of Oslo and not far from Lillehammer. After arriving in America, they each settled in the northwest part of Chicago, where there was a large and active community of immigrants from Norway. 

Gulbrand Sether

Sether was born in Nittedal, Norway, and Svendsen in Elverum.

The Norske Club was located in that area and it was a central meeting place for most Norwegian Americans living nearby. Artists were among those who frequented the Norske Club. Their art decorated the walls and was displayed in exhibits there.

Sether and Svendsen were accustomed to the change in seasons when they lived in Norway. In Illinois, Sether was drawn primarily to winter scenes. He was able to capture the winter light and shadow, both in daytime and after dark. His painting “Winter Evening” portrays a silent, almost magical winter night: not too cold, no wind, white snow blanketing the ground and roofs of buildings. Nestled in the woods, the blacksmith shop’s hot forge casts a cozy warm glow out onto the snow.

Early Spring

Photo courtesy of Mary Jo Thorsheim
“Early Spring” 1920. Svend Svendsen (1864-1945) 35.5 x 40.5 inches.

After winter comes spring. Svendsen’s impressionistic painting “Early Spring” takes us from the bare birch branches of winter that Sether painted to birches that are showing the first tender green of spring. The lovely, light-filled spring scene in daylight gives off a glow that is different from Sether’s winter painting. 

With “Early Spring,” the viewer is drawn into the landscape that fills the canvas. The painter includes a small, red-painted building that could have been a summer cabin or hytte in Norway, like some of those we see yet today. A bench for contemplation or conversation is positioned to take in the beautiful lake and mountain view, reminiscent of the peaceful Norwegian countryside.

This article originally appeared in the October 18, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American

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Mary Jo Thorsheim

Mary Jo Thorsheim (1937-2023) was the owner of the Norway Art® importing business for 40 years and a regular contributor to The Norwegian American.