More, More, More Mountain

To put it wittily: the romantic in me has never seen a more realistic vision of Rondane than Harald Sohlberg's.

Harald Sohlberg, Winter Night in the Mountains, 2014. Oil on Canvas, 160,4 x 180 cm. Photo: Børre Høstland.

I am deeply in love with this painting. With everything from the mountains’ (obviously) sublime grandeur to the solitary central star. With the black, mournful trees outlined in the foreground, the dead valley, and the almost white cross on the highest peak. The nearly heavenly sacred. And before all these things there is the colour: this startling blue, a colour to drown in; an all-encompassing blue I both want to drink from and dive into. The blue shades alone make me feel thirsty, sad, and empty, even as I am filled with a faith in something new. As if the blue becomes a blank sheet.

Another aspect I find important and essential for this painting concerns its creation. Not only as regards the many times Harald Sohlberg (1869–1935) – a central figure in the Norwegian Neo-Romantic movement at the turn of the last century – returned to the subject in paintings, prints, and photographs for fifteen years, but also because large parts of Winter Night in the Mountains (1914) are said to have been painted at 32 General Birchs gate (according to the blue plaque placed there by the City of Oslo), iin Oslo, far removed from any mountain. Surely that’s not a point worth mentioning, you say. Sohlberg made countless sketches of and variations on this landscape; he spent much of his time living in various locations in the Rondane region and really got the mountains under his skin. Surely, dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s back at the office in the city would be a breeze? And I guess you are right. This is probably a commonplace way of depicting mountains. I’ve never painted one myself, so what do I know. To put it wittily: the romantic in me has never seen a more realistic vision of Rondane.

What I know is that the very thing that Sohlberg fell for in his first compelling moonlight encounter with the mountains one night in 1899, the thing he pursued until the end of his life in his search for more, more, more mountain, he has managed, even from his (presumably) grey, cold, and small Oslo hovel, to convey and make me feel and want to disappear into the same – or at least a notion of the same. To ascend and be bewitched by blue.

– Artist and author Fatou Madeleine Åsbakk (1984) is educated at the Art Academy in Oslo. Her first novel, Været og uvirksomheten (The weather and the idleness), was published by Kolon in 2020.