London sale of 19th Century European Paintings on Wednesday, 2 June, 2010, is to include an important work by Norwegian artist Christian Krohg (1852-1925) of Leif Eriksson discovering America. Estimated at £150,000-250,000, the painting will spearhead the Norwegian component of the Scandinavian section of the sale. Leif Eriksson was a Norse explorer (c.970 c.1020) regarded as the first European to land in North America, nearly five hundred years before Christopher Columbus. In November 1891 newspapers in Kristiania (now Oslo) announced that The Leif Eriksson Memorial Association was to stage a competition for Norwegian artists to execute a large painting of Eriksson for the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1893, to coincide with a journey taken by the Viking ship, a replica of the Gokstad (excavated in 1880 after a ship burial centuries earlier), from Norway to the fair. The fair celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arrival in the New World in 1492.
Eriksson was the second of three sons of Erik the Red, who established a settlement in Greenland after he was exiled from Iceland. It is believed that Eriksson visited Norway in around 1000 where he was converted to Christianity by King Olaf I, who sent him back to Greenland to convert the settlers there. In one story recounted in one of the several different Sagas in which his life is recorded, Eriksson sailed off-course on his voyage to Greenland and arrived in a place he called Vinland, because of the abundant grape vines he found there. The precise identity of Vinland remains uncertain, with various locations on the North American coast identified. In 1963, archaeologists found ruins of a Viking-type settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, in northern Newfoundland, which correspond to Erikssons description of Vinland.
Eriksson holds a unique place in Scandinavian and US history, and his general recognition gathered momentum in the 20th century. In 1918 The Supreme Lodge of Sons of Norway instructed all lodges to observe a Leif Eriksson Day at such a time as each lodge finds it most suitable. At the Norse-American Centennial in 1925, the President of the United States unreservedly endorsed Eriksson as the discoverer of America. The Sagas do not give the exact date of Erikssons landfall in America, only that it was in the autumn. October 9 was settled upon in the late 1920s this was already an historic date in the annals of Norwegians in America since the ship Restauration arrived in New York on that date in 1825 with its first organised party of Norwegian immigrants. This date was recognised by law in the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota a few years later as Leif Eriksson Day, and in 1964 the United States Congress authorized 9 October to be an annual observance honouring the explorer.
Following the announcement of Christian Krohg as the winner of the competition in September 1892, the artist began preparing for the large-scale oil which was to be the largest picture he ever painted, given as a gift to the National Gallery is Kristiania in 1900 and now housed at Sjøfartsmuseet (Norwegian Maritime Museum) in Oslo. The present work is one of two studies that Krohg completed and, in this version, the artist depicts Eriksson as a heroic figure at the rudder pointing to a sunlit coast, attended by a young boy who has been on the lookout for land. Other seamen appear from below to see what the excitement is all about. The dramatic and daring navigation needed for such a voyage of discovery is emphasised by Krohgs dynamic composition with its impression of high speed. Huge waves surround the boat, painted in swirls of energetic brushwork. The study retains a freshness and naturalism lacking in the final version.