It’s a few years since I was wandering around Oslo on a snowy winter morning, filling in time until my flight was leaving from Norway back to the UK. Typically with free time to fill, I usually search out the nearest gallery or museum to wander around, if one is available. On that occasion one was, and it was the National Gallery (Nasjonalgalleriat) of Norway, in Oslo.
I’ve made quite a few visits to Norway now, mostly travelling well within the Arctic Circle to the Troms region. I’ve seen that landscape in high summer, when the midnight sun tricks the mind into believing light, and therefore time, will just stretch on before you without the need for, or impediment of, night-time and sleep. I’ve also been there when the winter darkness shrouds most of the day, hanging heavily around your shoulders with snow swathing around your feet.
I’ve never been to the central region of Norway though. That is where the National Park of Rondane is, around 250km from Trondheim and 130km from Lillehammer.
But, it was on this visit to the National Gallery in Oslo when I saw the painting Winter Night in Rondane – I believe it is a painting rather familiar to many Norwegians – and I have been intrigued by it since then.
Winter Night in Rondane (Vinternatt i Rondane) is by Norwegian artist Harald Sohlberg (1869-1935) and was painted in 1914.
I remember arriving in front of it and being instantly mesmerised by the scene. Firstly by the dark blues and whites of the mountainous landscape, then by the down-lit snowy peaks in the distance. The perspective pushes the eye to the far yet imposing summits, the foreground is secondary and is immersed in perhaps newly fallen, and so light and fragile, snow. The night sky looks long and sustained, and seems to raise a question as to whether it is menacing or friendly. There are no figures, no apparent life, just a natural space where the snow and darkness have taken over.
When looking intently, the scene fills the central vision immediately, then it slowly envelops the periphery – so you can suddenly seem to be there in the dark snowy wilderness. Seeing it causes you to look and look, and wonder what actually being there would be like. Would you stand in the snow looking, disrupt the snow, attempt to scale the distant mountains, be afraid or be exhilarated by the enfolding wilderness?
When the dark nights of winter arrive I always think about Winter Night in Rondane. The thing is, the painting can strangely conjure up a warm and inviting picture, not a scene that is inherently cold and desolate. It is a painting that tricks the mind into believing that particular natural world – the snowy isolation and mountainous darkness – will not test and defy you, but might just welcome you in.
© Laura Claire H 2014