Norwegian & American Women of Distinction: Kitty Kielland

Kitty (Christine) Lange Kielland (1843-1914)

Images: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons “Fra Jæren,” one of Kielland’s many landscape paintings.

Images: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons
“Fra Jæren,” one of Kielland’s many landscape paintings.

Diane Edwards
Daughters of Norway

Kitty Kielland was one of the most influential and important artists in Norway; she changed the face of Norwegian art by the development of Realism. She also paved the way for successive female artists, both through her paintings and by her active participation in the fight for women’s rights in the art world.

Kielland was born in Stavanger in 1843 to a wealthy and influential family. Her brother was Alexander L. Kielland, a famous Norwegian writer, who influenced her work and vice versa. Although she knew she wanted to be an artist and was allowed to study drawing and painting, she was discouraged from her goal of becoming a landscape painter until she turned 30. Presumably she had some type of inheritance at that time because she became independent from that time on and was able to embark on serious painting studies. She traveled to Karlsruhe in 1863 to study with Hans Gude. Her lessons had to be private, as women were not allowed into teaching studios. From Gude she received an education in realism that would perpetuate and influence her throughout her career. Kielland was a very hard worker and advanced quickly in her studies.

Images: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons A portrait of Kitty Kielland by Olav Rusti (1850-1920).

Images: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons
A portrait of Kitty Kielland by Olav Rusti (1850-1920).

In 1875 Kielland moved to Munich and joined with a Norwegian colony of artists there. During this time she painted open landscapes of a windswept and somber nature with huge skies, peat bogs, and slow-moving streams. This motif came from the area nearby her home in Norway where she returned every summer. In Munich she studied with French-inspired realist Hermann Baisch and with Norwegian artist Eilif Peterssen, who was considered to be her most important teacher. Her motif of peat bogs and flat landscape fascinated her. These paintings originated in her finding an area in Jæren in southern Norway. She prepared studies when she was in Jæren and later used these to paint a realistic depiction of this landscape with unifying atmospheric effects. She returned there in the summers and so the monotonous landscape was her main subject. This became her recurring motif.

She said she was so interested in this area because of “the grandeur of the landscape and the wealth of poverty.” The skill with which her landscapes were executed marked her as one of Gude’s most outstanding students.

In 1879, Kielland left Munich and moved to Paris along with several other Norwegian artists. There she was influenced by the artist Leon Petouse, and her works became infused with a lighter and more romantic quality. Her work became almost photographic in its clarity of form and infused with an atmosphere of nostalgia and gentle affection for Norway. She exhibited her paintings in Paris in 1879 for the first time. In the 1880s she worked at simplifying her art and participated eagerly in debates regarding women’s rights.

Kitty L. Kielland, in her “Summer Night” of 1886, was one of the first to reinterpret for a Norwegian context the mood of evening. Her paintings of her fellow Norwegian artists in Paris are among her best works. She was a good friend of the famous Norwegian artist Harriet Backer, and they lived in the same area in Paris and often painted together. Kielland’s paintings are shown in fine museums throughout the world.

Not only was Kielland’s art important in the development of realism, but she was also an active participant in the fight for women’s rights in Norway and the art world.

Toward the end of her life, Kielland painted little and suffered from senile dementia. She died in Oslo in 1914.

This article originally appeared in the July 1, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.