|Kittelsen, Theodore (1857-1914)|
After two years with von Hanmo, Kittelsen was granted sufficient financial support to continue his studies in Munich. His first two or three years there were happy period. He describes visits to the Three Ravens, the Bavarian Cellar, Binder's People's Theatre and other quaint inns and taverns. It was therefore a hard blow when, in 1879, he was informed that he could no longer be supported financially. From now on he had to pay his way by drawing for German newspapers and magazines, and by painting canvases that could be sold back in Norway through the Art Society, etc. The years that now ensued where probably the most difficult period in Kittelsen's life, which is saying quite a lot. He lived from hand to mouth, eking out an existence from day to day, running into debt, and seldom enjoying a square meal. Little of his work found its way back to Norway, and all in all, there is little we know about him during these years.
During one of his stays in Munich, Kittelsen
stated that his longing for his native countryside had grown more and more
His return home (to Kragerø) was moving, but
in the long run Kragerø was bound to prove unsatisfactory. Nature there
wasn't the «mysterious, romantic, and magnificent» nature he had longed for.
A unique opportunity, however, presented itself when his sister and brother
in-law made their way north to tend the lighthouse on the wind-swept little
island of Skomvær in the Lofotens, the outermost of this 125-mile chain of
islands. Kittelsen joined forces, and was gladly influenced by all the
overwhelming new impressions.
His encounter with the scenery of North Norway, is represented by the collection «Troll Magic». The idea was that the novelist Jonas Lie was to write the text for this book. Nothing came of this however, and Kittelsen himself, for the first time, became responsible for both drawings and text. A drawing like the one of the sea troll was probably one of the first to have been inspired by the scenery of Nordland. It illustrates the story of Johan Persa and Elias Nilsa and their meeting with the great bullhead. At the end of this story, Elias finds a great bullhead on one of the skerries and in his anger kicks it into the sea:
«The Sea Ghost» (Norw. Draug), too, would be
difficult to place in any context but Nordland, and the creepy crawly mood
Kittelsen creates in this story testifies to the intense impression that the
strangely menacing and magic scenery of this part of Norway exercised on
him. The other drawings of «Troll Magic» are generally set in the scenery of
the East Norwegian countryside, with forests and mountains. This applies to
«The Forest Troll», «The Underground People», «The Goblin», «Huldra», «The
Witch», «The Water Sprite» and «Battle of Giants».
The Black Death
In 1896 Kittelsen completed the illustrative work «The Black Death» his highest peak of achievement as a black-and-white artist. With visionary empathy he dug down into this sombre chapter in our history, this incomprehensible event which threatened at a blow to wipe the whole nation off the map.
When Kittelsen returned from Lofoten in 1889
he had the idea of utilizing subjects from the Norwegian History. He was
very involved in Nordic mythology and sagas at that time, and at first he
was planning to use subjects from Old Norse mythology. But then he came
across the woman who was to become Pesta. In «The Book of Oblivion»
he describes this encountering:
Pesta provides the natural germ to «The Black
Death», but some time obviously ensued before the whole project began to
take shape in Kittelsens mind. In a letter from Hvitsten, his home at that
time, he wrote: «Between us, 'The Black Death' is giving me a great deal of
trouble. My goodness what a subject for illustration!» Things were now going
properly, but he soon found his surroundings improper for his workings. He
had to get out into God's sacred nature. He had to be allowed to have a
breather. Sole in Eggedal was the place he was looking for, but it was not
until the late winter 1896 that he was able to move in there and complete
his last works for «The Black Death».
«The Black Death» contains fifteen poem or poetic prose sections with drawings where most of the subjects, of course, are Kittelsens's own. There are pure moody poems like «Pesta Is Coming», «Pesta Departs» and «Autumn Evening», poems in which he has achieved a stylistic simplicity of great effect. On other occasions he creates a little tale, such as the one about «Wee Per and little Mari», who have lost their mother and father and whom the trolls take pity and care for. But Kittelsen also utilized the saga material from Andreas Faye's old book «Norwegian Folk Tales» from 1843. From here he more or less borrowed «Over Sea and River» (in Faye this is called «Pesta in Gjerrestad») and «Knut and Thore» (in Faye «The Black Death in Sætesdalen»).
He also made a great deal out of Faye's «Hedal
Church in Valdres» and «Mustad in Vardal». The drawing for the latter is a
masterpiece of suggestive horror. The absolute highlight of «The Black
Death» however, is undoubtedly the magnificent drawing of Pesta on the
stairs, where the light effect and the strange, dizzy perspective greatly
intensify the sense of horror. Both in its subject-matter and artistic
execution, this drawing deserves a special place in Kittelsen's production.
The Nature Lover
After «The Black Death», Kittelsen continued
to live at Sole for about three years where he worked at a number of
illustrative tasks, and also had his own home built at Lauvlia in the
neighbouring district of Sigdal about a dozen miles further south. The
Sigdal scene, with its soft and charming contours, proved a never-failing
source of inspiration. «People and Trolls» contains enthusiastic
descriptions of this scenery.
From realistic descriptions of nature to pure
fantasy was only a step with Kittelsen, and the forest scene around him
provided rich inspirations. Everything in nature - stones and tufts of
grass, moss and pine branches, tree trunks, stumps and roots, - all aquired
in his imagination human or troll-like features. «Stooks of Corn in
Moonlight» is probably the best example of the thin borderline that
separates realism from fantasy: a few light strokes transform the stooks
beneath the yellow light of the autumn moon into a company of sedate trolls
making their way downhill.
Kittelsen was a sick and broken man when, in
1910, he was forced to leave Lauvlia. He settled first at Huseby, in Vestre
Aker, just outside Oslo. In the company of friends he recovered his spirits
somewhat, and he was still creative. The civil grant for his artistic
achievement voted him by the Norwegian Parliament in 1911, was a great
source of encouragement. In 1912 he purchased a property at Jeløya near
Moss, with Edvard Munch at Grimsrød as his nearest neighbour, where he
January 21, 1914 died. His old friend Christian Skredsvig tributed him:
Information supplied by: http://www.cs.uit.no/~espensk/kittelsen/