Ideal and Reality - Nordic Nature opens at Nationalmuseum Jamtli
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Ideal and Reality - Nordic Nature opens at Nationalmuseum Jamtli
Ferdinand von Wright, Pigeons. Oil on canvas. Photo: Linn Ahlgren/Nationalmuseum.

ÖSTERSUND.- This summer, Nationalmuseum Jamtli presents Ideal and Reality – Nordic Nature, an exhibition showing how nature has been depicted in art and applied art through the ages. The exhibition features some 130 works, paintings, drawings, photographs and applied art, all drawn from Nationalmuseum’s collections. The artists represented include Anna Boberg, Otto Hesselbom, Pehr Hilleström, Elias Martin, Bruno Liljefors and Helmer Osslund, alongside more recent names such as Frida Fjellman, Kerstin Hörnlund, Ingalena Klenell, Märta Mattsson and Per B Sundberg.

Ideal and Reality – Nordic Nature features artistic depictions of Nordic nature from the 17th century onward. The artworks represents changing views of nature over time, not only as a source of beauty, but also as an economic resource, an object of scientific study and a symbol of identity.

The earliest depictions of Nordic nature are all the work of foreign artists, so the exhibition begins by examining the dream of the Nordic landscape and the exotic appeal it must have held for many Dutch and German 17th-century artists. Irrespective of whether the works were painted on location or back in the artist’s studio on the Continent, the emphasis is on the wild and dramatic side of nature. In contrast to untamed nature, the idea of the pleasure garden represented cultivated, artificial nature, created on the drawing board with rulers and squares.

The 18th century brought the Enlightenment and an emphasis on reason, coupled with a creeping realisation that humanity could be a threat to nature. Pehr Hilleström portrayed the subterranean landscapes of places like the Falun copper mines, while the landscape paintings of Elias Martin and Carl-Johan Fahlcrantz were influenced by the English Romantic view of nature.

The latter part of the 19th century saw a reaction against Romanticism and the breakthrough of realism. The task of the artist was now to produce what was considered a true picture of nature. Realist painters were heavily influenced by contemporary French artists, and plein-air painting became their ideal. Bruno Liljefors was the late 19th century’s leading painter of Nordic wildlife. Like a scientist, he studied animal behaviour, movements and living conditions.

Around 1890, a new, more Romantic wave again swept the Nordic countries, and artists became more concerned with expressing emotions and moods in their art. Nature was often portrayed in the half-light of dusk or dawn, with generalised outlines and decorative compositions in which the overall effect was more important than the details. Meanwhile, many artists such as Karl Nordström and Helmer Osslund became preoccupied with the idea of art as an expression of national or regional identity.

The final part of the exhibition presents examples of how artists and designers of the late 20th and early 21st century have reflected on modern humanity’s relationship with nature. Questions concerning ecology, environmental damage, climate change and sustainability have occupied many artists in recent times. The exhibition includes works by artists and designers such as Frida Fjellman, Per B Sundberg and Petra Wadström.

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