Critics’ Picks

Harald Sohlberg, The Country Road, 1905, oil on canvas, 37 1/2 x 43".

Harald Sohlberg, The Country Road, 1905, oil on canvas, 37 1/2 x 43".


Harald Sohlberg

Dulwich Picture Gallery
Gallery Road Dulwich
February 13–June 2, 2019

When pressed to come up with an iconic Norwegian Expressionist, one usually arrives at Edvard Munch, he of The Scream. But there is a strong case to be made that the painter laureate of the north is Munch’s contemporary Harald Sohlberg. This densely hung exhibition is his first retrospective in England and concisely runs from Sohlberg’s early experiments with Symbolism to his sui generis depictions of the hibernal Nordic landscape, all shimmering with quiet energy.

As curator Kathleen Soriano notes, Sohlberg argued that he developed his oeuvre independent of external influence. “Painting Norway” reveals instead that he, a gifted draftsman and colorist, was intentionally or otherwise in dialogue with the crucial early movements of modern art—from his use of cloisonnism and saturated hues in portrayals of the remote mining town of Røros to sylvan and churchyard scenes that presage the uncanny vacancy of René Magritte.

Most of the works here are landscapes, but they also gesture to Norwegian folklore and its sense of an animate wilderness. This was important in Sohlberg’s day, to generate a national style in the century after independence. Retrospectively, this balance of genre, formalism, and mysticism locates him in a tradition at once modernist and mournful. The show crescendos to the arresting Winter Night in the Mountains, 1914, his magnum opus. Better still is The Country Road, 1905, a subtle study of alpenglow punctuated by a row of telegraph poles, marking the ineluctable march of change.