Peder Balke (1804 Hedemarken, Norway - Christiania 1887)
Coastal Landscape, 1852
Oil on paper on card, 23.3 x 17.4 cm
Signed and dated lower right Balke 1852
Handwritten label on the verso with an extract from E. Bénézit, Dictionnaire des Peintres and titled Dans un Fjord and Signé à droite en bas: Balke 1852; bearing the stamp Utstillet I Kunstnernes Hus, Oslo/Sept. 1954 Katalog No. 37A
Peder Balke 1804-1887, exhib. cat., Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, 1954, no. 37A;
Per Kvaerne and M. Malmanger (eds.), Un peintre norvégien au Louvre. Peder Balke (1804-1887) et son temps, Oslo, Instituttet for sammenlignende kulturforskning, 2006, p.14 f, ill. 3;
Per Kirkeby, Peder Balke, Trick, Depth and Game, Hellerup, 1996, chap. II, illus.
Balke’s autobiography provides an exceptionally vivid picture of the first half of his life. His origins were extremely humble, he had to work to support his family at a very early age and was a seasonal labourer before becoming a tradesman at the age of twelve. He then worked with a painter-decorator. In 1825 he was charged with the restoration of the interior of a church. In 1827 he entered the Royal School of Drawing in Christiania to study as a painter. He began to sketch from nature and travelled in Norway.
The absence of an academy of art in Norway caused him to leave the country in 1828 for Stockholm, where he studied at the Academy of Art. In 1830 he visited Copenhagen where the paintings of Johan Christian Dahl impressed him greatly. In the summers, he continued to travel in the Norwegian countryside. In 1831 he embarked on his first journey to northern Norway. He visited the North Cape, first saw the midnight sun and experienced extreme weather conditions.
In 1835, Balke visited Dahl in Dresden. The art historian Ingeborg Lange summarizes this visit as follows: Dahl urged him to take his studies of nature more seriously. Balke adopted a cooler palette with an emphasis on even, natural lighting and greater attention to natural detail – at least for a while. Yet it was Dahl’s friend, the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), who exerted a more lasting influence on Balke than Dahl himself. According to Dahl, nature was the only true master. Thus far, Balke and he were in agreement, but they had diverging interpretations of what nature really was. Dahl perceived it more visually while Balke was to seek it on a more profound level – like Friedrich – in the driving forces of nature itself.
After staying for several months with Dahl, Balke travelled on to Paris where he met his fellow countryman, the painter Thomas Fearnley. Both were particular admirers of Eugène Isabey, Théodore Gudin and Horace Vernet. Their powerful emotional idiom and virtuoso techniques made a profound impact on Balke. As Lange writes: The balance between both a directly observed rendering of nature and a subjective, symbolic perception of it was to be a permanent feature of Balke’s art from then on.
In the 1840s, after his return to Norway, Balke’s art evolved rapidly but his contemporaries appear to have found it less and less relevant. This caused him to leave Norway again and he moved to Paris in 1844. He managed to obtain an audience with Louis-Philippe, who had visited the north of Norway in his youth and was therefore eager to meet him. Balke showed the King the sketches of northern Norway he had brought with him to Paris and Louis-Philippe selected 30 to be worked up into paintings. Twenty-six of them are still in the Louvre. They have recently been restored and are now on permanent exhibition. Balke’s future as an artist seemed secure, but the unstable political situation in Paris put an end to the King’s plans and forced Balke to leave for London in 1847.
By 1850 he was back in Norway. He joined a socialist worker’s movement and took on a number of social and political commitments. Despite his lack of public recognition as an artist, he continued to paint. It is something of a paradox that the paintings from this period of his life were later to win him the prominent position he holds today in the history of Norwegian art.
 Per Kvaerne and M. Malmanger (eds.), Un peintre norvégien au Louvre. Peder Balke (1804-1887) et son temps, Oslo, Instituttet for sammenlignende kulturforskning, 2006, p.33-4. Per Kvaerne and M. Malmanger (eds.), op. cit. p.35.