Identity insight at National Gallery

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MUSEUM GUIDE: Norway’s capital is packed with museums, and they’re often popping up in the news. We’re following that news, and aim to focus every week this autumn on a specific museum or attraction worthy of a visit.
THIS WEEK: The National Gallery, a stately, historic institution on the brink of some major changes.

Norway's National Gallery in Oslo still houses a vast array of Norwegian treasures in stately surroundings. PHOTO: Views and News

Besides the appeal of marveling at the treasures housed in Oslo’s National Gallery, two proposals affecting the Gallery provide reasons for a visit: Admission fees may soon be reinstated, and the collections will likely be moved from their stately building downtown to a new location near the inner harbor at Vika.

They’ve been housed since the 1880s in their rather grand current quarters that originally were built with donations from a large local bank at the time. The city and eventually the state took over, and now state officials seem keen on building a new complex for the combined National Museum by 2016. Until then, treasures such as the breathtaking landscapes created during Norway’s period of national romanticism in the late 1800s remain at the National Gallery portion of the museum in the city center.

Upon entering the Gallery and walking up the stairs to the permanent exhibition, the first thing you see is a large sculpture of a woman: It is Auguste Renoir’s Triumphant Venus. You might ask yourself, “A Renoir placed prominently at the entrance of the Norwegian National Gallery?” Her location is with good reason; the Roman goddess Venus is a symbol of beauty, and this sculpture is just the beginning of what you are about to see.

In addition to sweeping landscapes portraying Norway's scenic wonders, the National Gallery also offers paintings that portray politics and social issues, like Christian Krogh's "Albertine at the Police Doctor's Waiting Room." PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons

The National Gallery is Norway’s largest public collection of art, which is featured year-round in its permanent exhibition. The collection is mostly comprised of works by Norwegian artists such as Christian Krohg, Harald Sohlberg, Thomas Fearnley, Jean Heiberg, Johan Christian Dahl, Hans Gude, Kitty Kielland, Harriet Backer, and of course Edvard Munch, to whom an entire room is devoted. (While most of Munch’s artwork is housed at Oslo’s Munch Museum, many of his early works including a version of The Scream are located at the National Gallery.) In addition, the museum has some sculptures by Gustav Vigeland – the famed Norwegian artist known for his creation of Oslo’s Vigeland Park at Frogner.

The National Gallery also contains a rich collection of international art, with a room devoted to Dutch painters and another room devoted to French impressionists such as Monet, Renoir, and Cézanne. You can also expect to see works by Picasso, Modigliani, and Matisse, to name a few. (Interestingly, the Norwegian painter Jean Heiberg studied at Matisse’s Art Academy in the early 1900s.)

For this newcomer to Oslo, visiting the National Gallery provided insight into Norway’s identity. You see snapshots of much of Norway’s geography through the landscapes painted by the artists, often of the majestic scenery around their homes. You see cold, icy fjords, towering mountains and lush green forests. Readers familiar with the unique and beautiful cloud patterns that hover above Norway might enjoy the 19th-century paintings by Knud Baade entitled Cloud Studies. You see hard times and happy times, religious and secular messages, and you even learn about Norwegian politics; Christian Krohg often depicted matters of controversy.

The National Gallery is now part of Norway’s National Museum, which since 2003 has grouped together the Gallery, the Applied Arts Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum and the Architecture Museum. Despite plenty of protests and years of debate, the National Museum, including the Gallery’s collections, looks set to move to Vestbanen, behind the Nobel Peace Centre and Aker Brygge.

At the moment the Gallery is free, but that might change as a result of the government’s plan to impose a new tax (VAT) on museum admission fees. Museums, in turn, would be permitted to write off the VAT they pay on some goods and services; the National Gallery may not be able to refuse that offer, particularly if they undertake to move to a new location.

If not to marvel at the beauty of the artwork, to become familiar with the names of Norwegian artists, to contemplate depictions of Norway’s identity, or to get a look at The Scream in person, go visit the National Gallery for free at its historic location – before it’s too late!

The National Gallery
http://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/en/venues/the_national_gallery/ (external link)
Open: Every day except Monday. Opening hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10am-6pm, Thursday 10am-7pm, Saturday and Sunday 11am-5pm.
Location: Universitetsgata 13. Take the #11, 17, or 18 tram to “Tullinløkka” which is right beside the Gallery, or take the tram, bus or T-bane to Nationaltheatret.
Admission: The permanent exhibition is free. The changing exhibition (currently featuring treasures from the Kremlin) costs NOK 80 for adults, NOK 60 for seniors, NOK 50 for students and runs until January 2011.

ALSO IN OUR MUSEUM GUIDE:

Norsk Folkemuseum (The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History)

The Viking Ship Museum

Summertime at The Munch Museum

The Natural History Museum – Botanical Gardens

The National Museum – Architecture

The Kon-Tiki Museum

The Maritime Museum

Oscarsborg Fortress

The Polar Ship Fram Museum

“Be a tourist in your own town”

Views and News from Norway/Isabel Coderre
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