MUNTHE, Gerhard
(b. 1849, Skanshagen at Elverum, d. 1929, Baerum)


Norwegian painter and designer. He trained as a landscape painter at the art school in Christiania (after 1877 Kristiania, now Oslo) run by Johan Fredrik Eckersberg (1822-1870) and his followers from 1870 to 1874. He travelled widely throughout his career but was most attracted to eastern Norway, where he had been born. His first ambition was to paint in a realistic style that would also accommodate impulses from fantasy and literature. During the winters of 1874-75 and 1875-76, he visited his relative, the painter Ludvig Munthe (1841-1896) at Düsseldorf and was impressed by his work. An Autumn Landscape (1876; Rasmus Meyer Collection, Bergen) was Gerhard Munthe's first major painting. During a long stay in Munich (1877-82), he studied the Old Masters as well as contemporary art.

He painted about 70 oils, mainly dark in tone but quite varied in content. They are largely based on impressions of the coastal towns or interior of Norway rather than being inspired by German motifs. Suburb (1879; National Gallery, Oslo) and Nevlunghavn (1881; Rasmus Meyer Collection, Bergen) are good examples of Munthe's work of this time. With such paintings, he emerged as one of Norway's leading artists.

Returning to Kristiania in 1882, he started to use lighter colours and adopted a more realistic style. He was introduced to French Realism by his Norwegian friend, the painter Erik Theodor Werenskiold (1855-1938) and others. Such pictures by Munthe as Summer Day (1884) and Garden of the Farm (1889; both National Gallery, Oslo) appealed to the patriotic sentiments of Norwegians.

After 1890 Munthe's landscapes reflected the contemporary trend towards simplification of form and the use of expressive colours. His brushwork was generally energetic, but he also achieved subtle effects in watercolour. After 1892 he produced some decorative watercolours in the tradition of European Art Nouveau, a series of 'fairy-tale moods' intended to appeal to the viewer's subconscious and depict subjects that could not be expressed through a naturalistic approach. The style was to some extent based on old Norwegian art, mainly peasant rugs from the 18th century, but Munthe was also influenced by the work of modern French painters such as Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Paul Gauguin.

His first series of watercolours, exhibited in 1893, included the Horse of Hell, Afraid of the Dark and the Daughters of the Northern Lights and their Suitors (all National Gallery, Oslo). Some of these compositions were subsequently made into designs for tapestry. Munthe also made designs for other kinds of applied art, especially book illustrations and decoration of interiors. Because of his interest in the decorative arts and the influence he had at the turn of the century, Munthe has been called the 'William Morris of Norway'. He also resembled Morris in being active in various arts organizations and writing on art and design.

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