In 1914 Thorvald Hellesen received a stipend from the Oslo academy to go to Paris for a few months but ended up staying for almost twenty years: 'I entered the circle around Picasso and a new world opened up for me; from that moment, I considered myself an artist.' Hellesen was at first greatly influenced greatly by both Picasso and Braque and their ongoing Cubist experiments, but by the end of the Great War, Hellesen had met and befriended Fernand Léger, an artist who was to have a profound effect on Hellesen's own work. Together Hellesen and Léger returned to Norway in 1919 where they collaborated on an exhibition at the Tivoli Hall of Kristiania, Léger and the Modern Spirit, for which Hellesen designed the invitation. Although Léger's influence on the younger man is manifest, there are clear differences between the two artists' work. Léger uses modulated grey tones to define the volume and curves of the figures, projecting the subjects forward from the flat, brightly coloured background (see fig. 1). By contrast, Hellesen's figures are at once more colourful and less distinct from the scheme of the painting. Hellesen adopts the fundamental principles of Léger's dynamic rhythms of contrasting line and colour, yet without volume or shadow, he employs these contrasts across the whole composition and decorative scheme to create a geometric image of bold form and strong purpose.
Not surprisingly, as proponents of the same brand of a new Cubist aesthetic, Léger and Hellesen were often referred to in the same breath. The critic Theo van Doesburg wrote that 'the young generation is going further in artistic expression than Picasso or Braque... Hellesen and Léger are playing an important role in the evolution of Cubism', while a critic from L'espirit Nouveau in 1921 wrote: 'Among the Cubists, Hellesen is one of the most interesting, for he seems to have a well-defined aesthetic, where colour and form blend in systematic fashion'.
Hellesen further established himself as a scion of Cubism by befriending Léonce Rosenberg, whose Galerie de l'Effort Moderne represented Picasso, Braque, Gris, Léger, Gleizes and Metzinger, and had promoted and championed the movement since 1914. After 1920, Hellesen became increasingly influenced by Gleizes and his theories of animating a flat surface by creating rhythms within space, ultimately to create a 'pure art' which has no reference to exterior reality. After 1925 Hellesen no longer showed his paintings, which may explain why his work remains more obscure than that of his contemporaries. There was, however, a rediscovery of the artist late in the twentieth century and two of his paintings are now in the collection of the National Gallery of Oslo with another in the Musée d'Art moderne in Paris.