‘I hardly knew whether what surrounded me was real or supernatural’. Haunting proto Scandi-Noir Arctic landscapes by the Norwegian, Peder Balke (1804-1887).

Peder Balke (1804-1887),
artist, social reformer, long distance walker
and seller of paintings to kings.

The island of Helgøya, in Hedmark county, Norway is has an area of 18.3 km² and is the largest fresh-water island in the country. It was in this unlikely setting that Peder Andersen was born. He grew up on the mainland, in Ringsaker and from the 1820s lived on the Balke family farm in Toten in Oppland county. Farmers in Toten paid for his education, and in return he decorated several farms in the area. These farmer actively encouraged his painting activities, later supporting him in obtaining higher education.

Heinrich August Grosch (1763–1843). He was also a student at the Tegneskole under Grosch and Jacob Munch. He’s known to have signed a 2-year apprenticeship contract with the Danish decorator and artist Jens Funch. From autumn 1829 to spring 1833, he was a pupil of Carl Johan Fahlcrantz at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. He was also a pupil of Johan Christian Dahl from 1843 to 1844.

In 1830, he set off on foot through the Telemark region and over the mountains to western Norway, picking his way along dangerous paths alongside waterfalls and encountering a valley that so engrossed him with its sublime beauty that ‘I hardly knew whether what surrounded me was real or supernatural’. Along the way, he painted and drew small sketches to develop later into paintings.

Peder Balke, The North Cape by Moonlight (1848)

Balke remembered one scene from another trip in 1832 in particular. – when he stood at the country’s northernmost point in the aftermath of a hurricane. “I had positioned myself on a rocky plateau some 100ft above the sea,’ wrote Balke, ‘and I felt I had to hold on tight to the cliff when the backwash hurled itself against the rock face and with a deafening sound like thunder rolled out again into the heaving sea, only to repeat the same fruitless onslaught on the unshakeable wall around which swirled the mighty waves of the Arctic Ocean.’

Peder Balke, Coastal Landscape. Undated.

Back in Stockholm, he completed several of the paintings he had sketched on his 1832 walking tour of Finnmark and managed to sell some to the Swedish king Karl Johan. In 1846 he sold thirty of his paintings to Louis Philippe I of France for the Palace of Versailles. Today Balke has more pictures hanging in the Louvre than any other Sacndinavian artist.

Peder Balke, Tree in a Wintry Forest (c. 1849 – 1859)
Peder Balke, Lighthouse on the Norwegian Coast (Ca. 1855)
Peder Balke, Stetind in Fog (1864)
Peder Balke, From North Cape (1840)
Peder Balke, Lighthouse on the Norwegian Coast, undated.
Peder Balke, Dresden in Moonlight (1851)
Peder Balke, Stetind with birch (1864)

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