The Search for Thor

Thor as an artist

Thor Jensen, Still life, oil on canvas, not dated.

Randi Millman-Brown
Ithaca, N.Y.

When I was a teenager growing up on Long Island, N.Y., in the 1970s, my dad took me to the Museum of Modern Art for my first visit, and I fell in love with art that day.

Thor Jensen, After Rembrandt, oil on canvas, 1920 (orig. Old Scholar in Vaulted Chamber, 1631).

When I began my research into my great-uncle Thor’s life, I didn’t know about the extent of his artistic abilities. As I have conducted more research, I now know of at least 10 unique works of art made by him. Included here are most of the pieces.

I am convinced there were other drawings, paintings, and sketch books that may have been lost. Perhaps there are some sitting in a storage bin somewhere in Norway, or they were simply tossed after he died in 1941.

Thor seems to have been interested in art from a young age. The earliest artwork I have by him dates to 1919 (which is not reproduced here) painted when he was 15 years old. He doesn’t appear to have a particular medium he liked to work in, as I have examples of pen and ink on paper, watercolor on paper, oil on wood, and oil on canvas examples.

Thor Jensen, St. Catherine’s Church, Hamburg, Germany, oil on wood, 1930.

Looking into his academic background, I can find no indication of any art classes he may have taken, so I am assuming that he either had a private teacher or just learned and practiced on his own. He attempted to copy a painting by Rembrandt (the original is in the collection of National Museum of Sweden) when he was 16 years old and seems to have had a relatively good understanding of how to paint light and shadow and render objects and people three-dimensionally at such a young age.

One of the highlights of my summer in Norway last year was to see a drawing of Thor’s in my cousin’s collection. As I was looking at it more carefully, I realized I knew exactly where he painted it. The next day I headed over to Akershus Fortress and wandered around the grounds until I found the exact spot. You can see his pen-and-ink wash drawing on the bottom left, and my photograph taken from the same location.

I am drawn to the fact that Thor spent most of his time painting and sketching landscapes. While he was on his three-week hiking trip through Finnmark in 1941, I am sure he had pen, ink, and paper with him. I have no idea what happened to the drawings.

I always feel like there must be one more book, one more journal, one more bin that I have yet to discover. Maybe these lost artworks will reappear one day.

Left: Thor Jensen, Akershus Fortress, pen and ink on paper, not dated.
Right: Randi Millman-Brown, Akershus Fortress, 2022, digital photograph.

All images courtesy of Randi Millman-Brown

Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at rmillmanbrown@gmail.com.

Visit Randi’s website at searchforthor.com

See Randi Millman-Brown’s previous post in her Search for Thor column at The Search for Thor January 2023.

This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Randi Millman-Brown

Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at rmillmanbrown@gmail.com.