The French connection

Claude Monet and Sandvika, Norway, 1895

Monet Sandvika

Image: Wikimedia / public domain
“Sandvika, Norway” (1895) by Claude Monet, oil on canvas, is on display at the Art Institute of Chicago.

MARY JO THORSHEIM
Norway Art®

“Color is my day-long obsession, my joy and torment”
– Claude Monet

At over 6 feet tall, Claude Monet’s physical stature was impressive. But more important than his height is his large and impressive place in the world of art.  He is a superhero of the style of painting called Impressionism, familiar to many. 

Impressionism originated in France in the 1860s. It is characterized by depicting the visual impression of the moment, the shifting effect of light and color. Its aim was to capture a feeling or experience that came from viewing a scene rather than to simply paint it in a realistic, photographic way. 

Oscar-Claude Monet was born in Paris in 1840 but lived in Giverny, France, for most of his life until he died in 1926. But the painting “Sandvika” was created during two months that Monet spent in Norway. Monet in Norway?! Yes! In the winter of 1895, Monet went to Norway to paint snowy landscapes illuminated by the special Norwegian light. 

There are two main theories about how he happened to travel to Norway in 1895. One is that his friend and colleague in Paris, the Norwegian artist Frits Thaulow (1847-1906), suggested it. The other is that Monet’s stepson Jacques Hoschedé orchestrated the trip. Jacques had recently moved to Norway. Jacques arranged travel to several places in Norway, where Monet created 29 paintings during his two-month visit.

“Sandvika” is his most famous painting from that Norwegian experience. “Sandvika” is a city in Bærum, about 10 miles west of Oslo. Christian Laland of the International Sons of Norway headquarters staff grew up in Blommenholm, a five-minute drive from Sandvika. He recalls biking past the buildings depicted in the Sandvika painting and over the iron Løkke Bridge.

Speaking of bridges: The Sandvika 1895 painting includes Monet’s first incorporation of the motif of a bridge—as far as we know—frequently used later. Examples are “Water Lily Pond” from 1900 and the London paintings “Waterloo Bridge” 1900 and “Charing Cross Bridge” 1901.

 “Sandvika” shows a group of buildings within a snow-covered landscape. Its misty appearance suggests that it is still snowing. The atmosphere of this light-infused scene interpreted in soft colors has warmth even if the setting is cold and wintry. A rosy-red building provides contrast to the predominant palette Monet used in this painting

At the beginning of Monet’s career he used dark colors, including black. Later he turned to lighter colors and less black, as shown from “Sandvika” from that period. When he did use a black tone, it was paint that he had mixed together from several colors, so that it was not a strong, stark black. The iron Løkke Bridge in the Sandvika painting is an example of this milder black.

Where is the “Sandvika” painting now? In Chicago! The Art Institute of Chicage (AIC) owns it after receiving it as a donation from Bruce Borland of Chicago in 1961. Borland (1880-1961) had inherited it from his art collector and philanthropist mother, Harriet Blair Borland, in 1933. How did Harriet acquire it? It had come to New York from a French art firm, and it appears that it went to Harriet in Chicago from there in the early 1900s. 

Notably, AIC holds the largest collection of Monet paintings outside of Paris. Although Monet did not have a personal relationship with the city of Chicago, his work connected with the art community there in a major way. Its popularity endures to this day, in Chicago and all around the world.

AIC featured an exhibit of paintings from its collection, “Monet and Chicago,” from Sept. 5, 2020, to Jan. 18, 2021. While the museum was temporarily closed because of the pandemic, virtual programming was made available online. To learn more, visit www.artic.edu/exhibitions/9036/monet-and-chicago.

Prints of selected Monet paintings from his 1895 experience in Norway may be obtained from Norway Art® in Minneapolis. Visit www.norwayartonline.com.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 15, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Mary Jo Thorsheim

Mary Jo Thorsheim

Mary Jo Thorsheim, Ph.D., the owner of the Norway Art® importing business for 40 years, was invited to donate a monthly article for The Norwegian American. She welcomes comments or questions by email at mjtmng@gmail.com or phone at (612) 339-7829. For more information, visit www.norwayartonline.com and norwayartoriginals.com.

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