Peder Balke

Peder Balkec(1804 Hedemarken, Norway - Christiania 1887)

Reindeers ‘under the Glorious Midnight Sun’, c. 1850

Oil on paper, 19.2 x 25.4

Provenance:
Probably one of the sketches taken by Balke to Berlin in 1851 (in 1852, towards the end of Balke’s visit, King Friedrich Wilhelm IV acquired two of his paintings)[1] Private collection, Germany

 

We are grateful to Dr. Marit Ingeborg Lange, Oslo, for so generously sharing her specialist knowledge.

 

On his journey north in 1832 Balke stayed at Vadsø, near the Russian border, where he visited a Sami camp. The camp was only accessible by crossing a high mountain plateau. Balke travelled on foot, his guide a rich reindeer owner. They arrived at the camp around midnight after a six hour trek. Balke’s experiences in the camp ‘under the glorious midnight sun of Finnmark’ are described in his memoirs.[2] The Sami owned two thousand reindeer and deployed seventeen well-trained dogs to guard them. Balke made numerous drawings of the camp and its surroundings.

The present painting, executed many years later, recreates this encounter with the Sami and their way of life. It emphasizes the relationship between the grandeur of the landscape and the community of the Sami leading their lives in close harmony with nature. Balke depicts the proud owner standing with a group of reindeer in a landscape surrounded by steep mountains. To the right are glimpses of a herd of reindeer and part of the camp with a tent and a characteristic turf hut. High mountain peaks rise from the fjord enclosing the image on both sides. The midnight sun projects dramatic light over the quiet fjord and the natural wilderness surrounding it. In this, Reindeer ‛under the Glorious Midnight Sun’ reveals how emotionally affected Balke was by the ideas of Romanticism. The painting is neither signed nor dated, however this is not unusual in Balke’s oeuvre. The style, working methods and subject matter of the painting are clear enough indications of its authorship. Balke tended to repeat his most popular subjects but this type of composition is rare and thus particularly interesting. He completed several landscape paintings with Finnmark motifs such as Sami figures and reindeer. But in no other painting, to the author’s knowledge, is the figure of a Sami allowed to dominate in this manner. The style and execution of the work indicate that it was painted around 1850.


[1] Deutsches Kunstblatt, Stuttgart 1851, no. 51, p. 417 and 1852, no. 3, p. 105.

[2] ‘Peder Balkes selvbiografi’ in Kunst og Kultur, John Griegs Forlag, Bergen 1921, IX, pp. 65-122. (Balke’s visit to Vadsø and the Sami camp, p. 93).

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