One of Norway’s leading artists, Inger Sitter, died last week after a career that spanned seven decades. She’ll be remembered not only for her own work since debuting as a child prodigy at 13, but for championing the rights of other artists to work.
“I have helped to ensure that many artists can do what they want to do. That is important in such a small and uncultivated country,” she said in an interview with author Niels Christian Geelmuyden a few years ago. “Only Norway, Holland and Ireland have introduced fundamental public support programmes for artists. The majority of artists in Norway live off grant and the guaranteed income, I believe.”
Sitter worked hard on behalf of artists, lobbying Labour Party politicians in power to guarantee a minimum wage for artists. She was genuinely concerned with securing income for artists, reported newspaper Aftenposten, while also excelling as an abstract painter herself who was among Norway’s most internationally oriented.
Sitter was born in Trondheim but moved frequently with her Finnish mother and Norwegian father, who sailed for a Norwegian shipping company. She grew up in Antwerp and later studied there. Her career began as a figurative painter but she quickly became one of the great modernists in Norway’s post-war art world.
Her abstract work blossomed from the mid- to late 1950s, when she also was married to fellow Norwegian artist Carl Nesjar, who worked on projects with Pablo Picasso. She lived mostly abroad but commuted between France, Spain and Norway. She eventually settled on the island of Tjøme but also had a home in Italy that she completely renovated with its own studio. She was often candidly critical of Norway, once calling the homeland of Edvard Munch “unfortunately a developing country when it comes to art. Music and literature hold an entirely different position. Art is and continues to be decoration here in this country. So one gets the art one deserves as well. Kitsch flourishes.”
She offered more frank opinions in the interview with Geelmuyden that’s published on the website of oil company Statoil, which invested in her art:
“I consider Norwegians to be a talented people. The problem is that we make it very difficult for ourselves with our narrowmindedness, the clique mentality and scheming. Too much seriousness destroys playfulness. But perhaps it is inevitable when one is surrounded by the cold and darkness nine months of the year. Clearly it has some bearing on our essential nature.”
She had an interesting theory on why she thought many Norwegians were narrow-minded: “During the Viking age, the bravest and most social of the Norwegians left the country. To the extent that social people survived, they were then eradicated by the Black Death. Finally, there was the emigration to America. That took with it the last remains of our extroversion. Only the asocial and the anxious were left after these three events.”
Sitter completed many major projects including art integrated into the government buildings in downtown Oslo, the business school Norges Handeslhøyskole in Bergen and Nordlys Hallen in Hamar in connection with the Winter Olympics in 1994. She was also a professor at the state art academy, Statens Kunstakademi and she held her last exhibit as late as last year, in Oslo.
Sitter was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and died on Tjøme. She was 85.