The Search for Thor
Thor as an artist
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
Visit Randi’s website at searchforthor.com
This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.