with a view of early Norwegian logging in Kongsrud’s painting
Mary Jo Thorsheim
The Norwegian oil painting Logging in Modum, Norway, winter 1926, by Anders Abrahamsen Kongsrud, reminds me of the traditional Christmas song “Jingle Bells.” “Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh. O’er the fields we go…” Horse and driver look like they are traveling at a good speed, if not “dashing” along in this poignant scene. The sleigh in the song is replaced by a one-horse open sledge and the fields of the song lyrics are replaced by the snowy mountain side. A “sledge” is related to a sleigh, but it is a heavy sled mounted on runners and pulled by workhorses to transport loads across ice, snow, or rough ground. Most of us are not familiar with sledges or sleighs in this modern day, and workhorses are often only known from seeing them in parades. Few people have had experience with this kind of work that was not automated, and most have only heard about it, if at all, from older folks reminiscing. Nevertheless, younger generations are showing interest in learning about the history of their own particular heritages, not least from studying paintings of the past.
This beautiful portrayal of winter in Norway is really a painting for all seasons because of the sun and light shown in it and its typically Norwegian subject. Many people prefer and collect winter paintings, but this particular one has appeal beyond the limitations of one season. The tall pines are still green under the blanket of snow. Sunshine streams down on the scene and light illuminates the distant mountains. The artist has captured daylight that dispels the winter darkness.
Maybe the scene is from Christmas-time in Norway. The logger may be working part of the day on Lillejuleaften (the Little Christmas Eve on December 23). Then he may have gone home to join preparations for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tradition would call for the special meal of risengrøt.
This Norwegian logger at Modum in Buskerud in eastern Norway is moving logs harvested in winter. After depositing them next to a river, he would leave the logs there until the ice of winter had thawed and fleets of logs could be floated down the river to a sawmill in the spring. The timber industry was important to Norway’s economy in early times, through the 1920s, as shown in the painting, and remains so today.
Just as logging with sledge and horsepower were used in Norway, Norwegian-American immigrants brought their methods to the United States and Canada where it was logical that they found jobs in an industry they knew about from home. And they did. For example, the ancestors of the Linds at Castle Danger, Minn., on Lake Superior worked at logging in the nearby forests during the winter when they couldn’t do the commercial fishing that they did in summer. In northwest Minnesota, Darold Johnson’s family used a horse and sled, as seen in the photo of Darold’s father and grandfather in 1919. Likewise, Norwegian Americans of the Northwest plied their logging trade in the verdant forests there. Across Canada and in various other locations in the United States, the scene in the painting would have been repeated. But, with one exception: the variety of the horse. Norwegians in east Norway often used a special small workhorse, the “Døle Gudbrandsdal” breed. Although smaller than other workhorses, the Døle was muscular, and strong. One of the smallest trotters, the Døle’s bloodlines are thought to date back to 400 – 800 BC.
THE ARTIST: Anders Abrahamsen Kongsrud was born in Modum, Buskerud, Norway in 1866. Except for 10 years of study in Oslo and Paris, he lived in Modum all of his life. He died there in 1938.
From childhood, he took an interest in nature, and the area around Modum gave him the opportunity to actively engage in it. The experience influenced his art. He specialized in painting landscapes, animals, and birds. He was known for his paintings of forests and his ability to capture details in a scene. One of his important works was his large oil painting of the “King’s View” famous scene in eastern Norway which shows a detailed forest in the foreground and a distant view of mountains. It was imported to America and the Dayton Company in Minneapolis then offered it for sale. The buyer was a woman who had emigrated from Lerdal in western Norway, so the history of this painting actually links eastern Norway with its subject and western Norway with the western Norwegian background of the buyer in Minneapolis. It passed by inheritance to her nephew, the late Fred Erickson of Duluth, Minn.
Kongsrud was encouraged and supported in his study and work by important artists such as Christian Skredsvig and patrons. Dr. H.A. Thaulow, uncle of famous Norwegian artist Frits Thaulow and director of the psychiatric institution Modum Bads, sent Kongsrud to the Royal Art Academy where he studied for five years. Following that, noted Norwegian artist Erik Werenskiold recommended that Kongsrud study in Paris, and that he did, from 1889-94, financed by a private stipend from Dr. Thaulow. He returned to Modum but made painting trips to Telemark and Hallingdal. His debut was at the Fall Exhibition in 1888 with a painting from Sigdal. That was the first of many other honors that his paintings received by being selected for juried exhibitions, display in galleries, and commissions.
The logging painting highlights several interesting aspects of Norwegian history, industry, weather conditions, geographic details, and other information. We owe Kongsrud’s memory a huge debt of gratitude for expanding our knowledge and giving us beautiful paintings to enjoy.
This article originally appeared in the December 13, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.