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Ibsen’s ghost alive in his Oslo home

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 Ibsen Museum, a great way to learn more about the famous Norwegian whose plays are revered around the world.

Henrik Ibsen at his desk in Oslo. PHOTO:

Various things come to mind when thinking about what is characteristically Norwegian, and near the top of the list is the playwright Henrik Ibsen. Ibsen lived in several countries during his adult life, but he was born in Norway, grew up in Skien and Sørlandet, and grew old in Oslo. For his theatrical and literary achievements, he is one of the most famous Norwegians of all time.

Naturally, a great deal of attention is paid to remembering not only Ibsen’s plays but also to remembering Ibsen the man. The Ibsen Museum is one such initiative. It is located across from the Royal Palace on the outskirts of downtown, in the apartment building where Ibsen was living when he died in 1906. Before this museum was created, Ibsen’s possessions were on display at the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norsk Folkemuseum) on the nearby Bygdøy peninsula.

The Ibsen Museum has two parts: Ibsen’s restored and refurnished apartment, which has been open to the public since 1994, and an exhibit about Ibsen’s life, which opened in 2006 on the 100th anniversary of Ibsen’s death.

An informative guide walks visitors through the apartment, telling them about Ibsen’s private sphere. Extraordinary efforts have been made to present his apartment accurately, made possible in large part by the Ibsen family’s substantial donations of objects. Even Ibsen’s bathtub was recovered, from a farm in Hadeland where it had been used as a watering trough for livestock, and put back in place.

Information panels in the exhibit portion of the museum offer insight into Ibsen’s life, and personal items are on display including Ibsen’s pipe, reading glasses, grooming kit, and famous outfit: his waistcoat, trench coat, top hat and walking stick.

In contrast to Ibsen’s apartment, the exhibit is modern and artistic and visitors wander through without a guide. It’s quite beautiful, with old brick and wood exposed but with the designers also using bright colours and modern glass displays. There is an oil painting of Ibsen dated from 1888 placed next to a modern caricature of him, printed on glass and hanging in a doorway.

The route from Ibsen's apartment to the Grand Café is lined with quotes from his plays embedded in the sidewalk. PHOTO: Views and News/Isabel Coderre

A sealed doorway that would have connected the exhibit to Ibsen’s apartment is used as a projector screen, on which a moving image of Ibsen is displayed strolling into the distance. The reason for these juxtapositions is clear. Ibsen was quite oppositional, as he challenged popular views and criticized the status quo (most unconventionally about the status of women). In the hours before he died he was mumbling things incomprehensibly, except when he sat up and said his last words: “On the contrary” (“tvert imot”). Ibsen’s last words serve as the title of the exhibit, and that theme is certainly reflected in its design.

If you would like to learn about the famous playwright Henrik Ibsen and be exposed to an important part of Norwegian culture, take a trip to the Ibsen Museum. Henrik Ibsen was a very successful, talented and complex man – you will enjoy spending some time getting to know him.

To make it a real event, after exiting the museum you will notice steel lettering in the sidewalk; these are quotes from Ibsen’s plays, and they lead to the Grand Café in Oslo’s Grand Hotel, where Ibsen would regularly enjoy lunch. Inside the Grand Café, take note of the huge painting on the back wall. It depicts many famous Norwegians, and Ibsen can be seen on the far left.

The Ibsen Museum (external link)
Open: Tuesday-Sunday from 11am-4pm, Thursday from 11am-6pm.
Location: Henrik Ibsens gate 26. Take the bus or trikk to Slottsparken, which is across the street from the museum, or take the T-bane to National Theatre.
Admission: Exhibition is NOK 45 for adults, students and seniors, and NOK 15 for children. Exhibition plus guided tour of Ibsen’s apartment is NOK 85 for adults, NOK 60 for students and seniors, NOK 25 for children, or a family price of NOK 170 (two adults and two children).


The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (Kunstindustrimuseet)

The National Gallery

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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