Richard (Sven R.) Bergh (Swedish, 1858–1919)
Landskap från Gjendesheim
inscribed 'För mycket färger/Ej mystiskt....” (upper right); and signed with monogram (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
70 x 126 in. (177.8 x 320.4 cm.)
Painted in 1910.

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Clare Keiller
Clare Keiller

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Lot Essay

Richard Bergh was a pivotal figure in the arts in Sweden at the turn of the last century. Intellectual yet socially engaged, he used his position as Director of the National Gallery of Sweden to champion a new art: a nationally orientated Symbolism. He favoured the avant-garde, and depicted his friend Strindberg against the latter’s Inferno – which he hung prominently in his office (fig 1). At home, he hung Gauguin’s Landscape from Bretagne (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), which inspired a generation of Swedish artists with its strong poetic resonance.
This monumental canvas – one of the largest known depictions of a Nordic landscape by a Scandinavian artist – was last seen at the artist’s retrospective in 1949. It did however feature prominently in Fanny and Alexander, Ingmar Bergman’s celebrated film of 1982. It is seen in the Ekhdal’s dining room, denoting their liberality and modernity, and evoking the pleasures of summer (figs. 2 and 3).
The landscape depicted is in Jotunheim, at the heart of a long range known as the Scandinavian Mountains. Bergh was invited there in the summer of 1910 to stay with the Norwegian landscape painter Kristen Holbø (1869-1853). Bergh purchased Holbø’s depiction of the view for the Nationalmuseum. Jotunheim was also the subject of J F Willumsen’s celebrated picture begun in 1891 in Norway and completed in Paris the following year (now in the J F Willumsen Museum, Fretrikssund, Denmark). Bergh was aware of this picture, and the work of the Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler. Like Hodler, Bergh suppressed aerial and chromatic perspective and focussed instead on the underlying structure of the landscape, eliminating all that is incidental and irregular. Painting on a monumental scale, he allowed pictures to be viewed from a distance and developed a mosaic technique to heighten decorative effect, each detail being carefully considered. Two preliminary works are known: a charcoal drawing and a smaller oil study (which also depicts the Aurora Borealis). Both are in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

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