You may not recognize this picture, but it’s one of the most famous paintings ever to come out of Norway, almost but not quite as famous as Munch’s classic “The Scream.” This is called Brudeferden i Hardanger (“Bridal Party at the Hardangerfjord”) and was painted in 1848 as a collaboration between two Norwegian artists, Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude. I’ve seen this painting in person and let me tell you, an electronic copy simply doesn’t do it justice. The mountains in the background and the water in the foreground seem to glow with their own light. The human figures are hyper-realistic, almost more “alive” than they would be even if this was a photograph. It’s truly a remarkable piece of artwork and one that I never get tired of looking at. I have a small reproduction of it in my office so I see it several times a day.
Brudeferden i Hardanger is an example of an art classification called Norwegian National Romanticism. This movement sought to depict, beautify and glorify rustic and common elements of Norway’s people, society and culture and build an emotional mystique around them. The purpose of this was ultimately political: to inspire nationalist feelings that would presumably manifest themselves as a movement for national independence. (Norway was in the mid-19th century a province of Sweden, having been turned over to the Swedes by the Danes in 1814). Painters like Tidemand and Gude enthusiastically took up this charge. While Gude painted majestic landscapes, Tidemand tended to focus on people, depicting scenes of everyday life among rural Norwegian farmers. The spirit of Tidemand and Gude’s work, which impressed me when I saw their pictures in Norway’s National Gallery in 2009, were an influence on my recently completed novel The Valley of Forever.
The National Romanticist movement did eventually pay off. Norway became independent in 1905. Unfortunately neither artist of this picture lived to see that; Tidemand died in 1876, Gude in 1903. But their work lives on in stunning pictures such as this one, which are quite rightly classified as priceless national treasures of Norway.