Sotheby's to offer one of the greatest Norwegian paintings ever to appear at auction

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Sotheby's to offer one of the greatest Norwegian paintings ever to appear at auction
Harald Sohlberg (Norwegian, 1869 – 1935), Modne Jorder (Ripe Fields), signed Sohlberg lower right; titled in Norwegian on the reverse, oil on canvas, 73 by 116cm., 28¾ by 45¾in. Estimate £1,000,000-1,500,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

LONDON.- One of the greatest Norwegian paintings ever to appear on the market will headline Sotheby’s sale of 19th Century European Paintings in London on 11 December 2019. Modner Jorder (Ripe Fields) by Harald Sohlberg is being presented at auction for the first time, having remained in the same private collection for more than seventy years. Estimated at £1,000,000-1,500,000, this seminal work announces the first full flourishing of the artist’s highly personal style and has long been recognised as pivotal in Sohlberg’s career.

Richard Lowkes, Sotheby’s 19th Century European Paintings Specialist, said: “In some ways the opposite to his contemporary Edvard Munch, Sohlberg is a master of slow looking: he achieves his glowing, intense colour by applying layer upon layer of translucent glazes, and paints each leaf individually. At a formative stage in his career, with Ripe Fields Sohlberg truly found his artistic voice. Perhaps this is the reason he attached particular importance to the work. Only two other major paintings by Harald Sohlberg have come to auction in the last twenty years, both times at Sotheby’s, and both times a new auction record has been set. Sohlberg’s sense of sublime nature, and the meditative quality of his best landscapes, resonate with the public now more than ever.”

Anette Krosby and Cecilie Malm-Brundtland, Sotheby’s Consultants in Norway, added: “Arguably more than any other artist, Sohlberg defined how we in Norway think and feel about the Norwegian landscape. His masterpiece Winter Night in the Mountains has been voted Norway’s favourite painting, and it was wonderful to see the painting lent to exhibitions in London and Germany recently. It is exciting that Ripe Fields is now coming to international auction, at a time of unprecedented international exposure for Sohlberg’s work.”

Confirming the high regard in which Sohlberg held Ripe Fields, the painting was included in no fewer than eight international exhibitions during his lifetime, and most recently featured in a monograph exhibition held in Oslo, London and Wiesbaden. The importance that Sohlberg attached to the work is also emphasised by the composition’s appearance, reversed, in the artist’s best-known self-portrait, which he painted in Paris.

Painted in 1898, Ripe Fields is a masterful example of Sohlberg's glazing technique. This and the precisely balanced composition lend the scene its strong initial impact, which is followed by meticulous details which reveal themselves gradually. The glowing, enamel­like finish of the emerald green 'ripe field' is set against the finely observed foliage in the foreground. Each leaf is articulated with a layer of rich impasto, acting as a contrast to increase the illusion of depth in the verdure beyond. Vertical tree branches to the left and right frame the scene, while in the distance a track punctuated by pale-trunked birch trees at rhythmic intervals runs across its width. On the horizon, the central swathe of the hillside blazes with the first light of the day. These elements, within a pure landscape devoid of the human figure, define Sohlberg's finest works.

In early 1891 Sohlberg spent several months staying with the family of Gunerius Pettersen at their estate at Rotnes farm in Nittedal, near Oslo. This stay earned Sohlberg an early commission from the Pettersens to paint Ripe Fields. While it is not dated, it is likely the painting had only recently been finished when Sohlberg first exhibited it in the Autumn Exhibition in Kristiania (Oslo) in 1898.

Throughout his career Sohlberg was regularly compared with his illustrious compatriot Edvard Munch. While this was no doubt to his credit, Sohlberg consistently denied being influenced by Munch, six years his senior. Both used bold colours and inflected their landscapes with powerful emotions, however they achieved these by very different means. Sohlberg's precise, accomplished draughtsmanship – magnificently deployed in Ripe Fields – is clearly at odds with the expressive brushstroke of his compatriot. Sohlberg's own form of a ‘synthetic’ style of painting characterised by flattened perspectives and planes of color exemplified the ‘mood-painting’ of Nordic art at the close of the nineteenth century. An exhibition exploring the artists' relationship was held in New York in 1995, titled Munch/Sohlberg: Landscapes of the Mind.

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