Lofoten, using an expressionist’s brush
Einar Berger (1890-1961) is the last of the Lofoten painters and is quite different to his predecessors. He grew up in a fisherman’s family at Finnkroken in Reinøya, Troms, and as a boy he took part in the fishing there with his father.
He was a fisherman for eleven years, a perilous life for a young boy who lived through both storms and shipwrecks. This was the kind of experience he kept reliving and communicating through his paintings.
But not until later. To begin with, he became a fish merchant in Svolvær and later in Oslo. But he was definitely no businessman, relinquishing his old life in 1826 and deciding to become a painter. He was given a place at a school of painting run by the North Norwegian artist Ola Abrahamssen in Oslo, but dropped out after only ten lessons. He had had his Damascus experience, as he himself called it, he was convinced that he was born to be a painter. He even gave himself a new title, Lofoten painter.
As a self-taught artist (his education consisting of a mere 55 weeks at primary school), he worked in a completely different way to that which was the norm. He nailed his canvases to the wall and practically pounced on them with brush in hand. At home in Asker, and with no landscapes in front of him, he painted Lofoten as he remembered it from his childhood and youth.
Or as he himself put it: “All I have to do is close my eyes and I see it all before me, right down to the minutest of details, and then all I have to do is paint it.” In this we way he considered art in much the same way as Caspar David Friedrich in the early 1800s and Edvard Munch at the end of the same century, as the “art of memory”. The concept was coined by the Danish professor of art history, Julius Lange (1838–1896), who was not interested in paintings done outdoors, but was more of the opinion that the painter’s work in the studio was that which was important.
Berger was also influenced by the works of the German expressionists that he had seen at an exhibition in Oslo in 1932 and later during his trips to Germany. This might explain his bold brush strokes, as seen in a work such as “Homecoming – final journey” painted in the 1930s. Here, the sky, the mountains in the background and particularly the sea are dealt powerful brush strokes in shades of brown, yellow, blue and green. “The Fishing Fleet in the Harbour” (probably from the 1930s) also displays this rough use of the brush, coupled with strong use of the effects of light. And no less audacious is “Shipwreck” from 1937, although not only for the purely artistic, but also for the unusual perspective – almost as though it was seen from a helicopter. We witness fishermen in an open boat on very rough seas after a shipwreck. Berger said himself that he had been through precisely such unpleasant events many times.
Much calmer is his “Red Sail” (1920s), where he varies the orange-coloured sails of the three Nordland boats bobbing up and down on the sea. The sails are reflected in the water, but in different shades. The evening sky also echoes these shades of colour, giving the painting an almost monumental cohesion. Here too, his brush strokes are clearly pronounced, largely vertical on the surface of the sea.
Berger had several exhibitions in Oslo in the 1930s, including two at Blomqvist’s in 1933 and 1935. King Håkon and Crown Prince Olav both bought some of his works at these exhibitions. Furthermore, he exhibited his works all over western Europe and some were bought by leading museums such as the Jeu de Paume in Paris. Having chosen the wrong side during the last War, he was later forgotten and rather undeservedly faded into oblivion.
Painters of Lofoten
The gallery contains an ample collection of paintings by widely acknowledged artists like Otto Sinding, Gunnar Berg, Even Ulving, Adelsteen Normann, Einar Berger, Ole Juul, Thorolf Holmboe and several others.