A distant view of mountain Stetind, Norway
Peder Balke (1804-1887)

A distant view of mountain Stetind, Norway

Oil on board, H. 0.103 m; W. 0.128 m

Signed lower right : Balke.

Provenance: (Probably) Fredrik Baltzar Psilanderhjelm (1806-1905), Sweden;
(Probably) his son Fredrik Carl Psilanderhjelm (1846-1918), Sweden;
His son Advocate Fredrik Torsten August Psilanderhjelm (1884-1935), Sweden;
His sister, Louise Sofie Eriksson (1883-1966), née Psilanderhjelm, Sweden;
Thence by descent until 2009;
Private Collection.

Literature:
  • Peder Balke Visjon og revolusjon, Nord Norsk Kunst Museum, exh Cat., 2014, illustrated III.8, p. 38;
  • Paintings by Peder Balke, The National Gallery, 2014, exh. Cat., 2014, cat. 8, p. 72

The present painting, one of Balke’s most imposing pictures painted on a small scale, was probably painted in the mid to late 1840s. It is one of his earliest known depictions of a subject taken from the north of Norway painted on a small scale and perhaps his earliest known work in which his unconventional technique of his later years are discernible. During the 1850-70s, Balke produced a number of small scale paintings, not larger than a postcard, of subjects taken from the north of Norway, which have become the hallmark of his art.

The mountain of Stetind appears frequently in Balke´s paintings when he seeks to emphasize nature’s overwhelming superiority to man. Perhaps his most famous picture depicts this imposing and daunting mountain now in the National Museum of Art, Oslo. (See fig. 1)

The artist also had a photograph taken of himself with this painting on his easel. Stetind, 1392 m. high, is situated at the bottom of Stefjorden, c. 50 km. southeast of Narvik. In 2002, it was promoted the national mountain of Norway.

Peder Balke is one of the most extraordinary and original figures in the history of Norwegian art. His pictures are remarkable for their pared down conception of form, powerful empathy with nature, monochrome colouring and painterly technique.
In April 1832, Balke undertook a sea journey to the north of Norway. The impressions he gathered on this voyage had an enormous influence on his attitude towards nature and on the development of his art. Much later in life Balke summoned up this journey (exh. Cat., Musée du Louvre, A Norwegian Painter in the Louvre. Peder Balke (1804-1887) and His Times, 2006, p. 31) :

No pen is capable of describing the grandiose and enchanting impression made on the eye and the mind by the wealth of natural beauty and the incomparable situations, an impression that not only overwhelmed me then and there but also had a decisive influence on the whole of my life, in that I have never, either abroad or in other parts of our country, had occasion to see anything equally exalting and inspiring as that which I saw on this journey to Finnmark; for in these northern districts the beauty of nature takes the leading part, while human beings, the children of nature, obviously play only seconadary role.

In 1829, Balke had joined the Art Academy in Stockholm where he frequently visited the studio of Carl Johan Fahlcrantz (1771-1861), the leading landscape painter in Sweden of the day. After his trip to the north of Norway, Balke returned to Stockholm and produced a number of paintings based on his new sketches, several of which were sold to members of the Royal family and private individuals. These pictures are today unknown. Fahlcrantz may have encouraged Balke to undertake this journey. In 1827, Fahlcrantz had travelled through the middle parts of Norway executing a number of drawings which he on his return developed into paintings. The German painter Christian Ezdorf (1801-1851), who also studied in Stockholm under Fahlcrantz, may also have inspired Balke to undertake this journey. Two of his paintings based on sketches from his trip through Norway, showing the North Cape and the Fortress of Vardø, had been bought by King Carl Johan and hung at Rosendal Palace in Stockholm where Balke saw them in 1829.

In 1835, Balke went to Dresden where he met Johan Christian Dahl and Caspar David Friedrich. Balke´s landscape vision, original as it is, derives to a great extent from his memories of Friedrich´s work. He adopted Friedrich´s symmetrical and frontal compositions and his way of organizing pictorial elements in receding horizontal planes. Nevertheless the two artists are very different. Whereas Friedrich portrayed every tiny detail realistically and accurately, Balke developed a bold and free painterly style.

In his works from the 1830-40s, which are painted on a larger scale, Balke applies a fairly thick paint and the light areas with impasto. In the 1850s he refines and simplifies his technique in order to emphasize the expressive character of his art. He grounds the panels with white, preferably of a smooth, enamel-like kind, and on this he applies thinned down colours. Then, employing rags, coarse brushes or his fingers, he removes or forms the wet paint in such a manner that the white ground shines through to varying degrees, not unlike marbling. He then outlines the main forms with bold sweeping movements. The white ground becomes the unifying element, not only comprising the light parts of the picture, but also suggesting depth.