Theodor Kittelson - Magic Realist Norwegian Art - 1857 to 1913

Theodor Kittelson, the famous Norwegian painter, was born in the Southern Norway town of Kragero in 1857. His boyhood was pleasant and happy until at the age of 11 his father died, forcing him to take on several apprenticeships and jobs. However, his talent for arts and crafts was discovered and he was promised free lessons by the architect Wilhelm von Hanmo at the School of Art in Christiania.

After two years in Cristiania with Hanmo Kittelson was granted enough money to continue his study in Munich. His first few years there were spent happily, until his grant was cancelled. He then made a living selling his art to German Magazines and to vaious Art Collectors. This was difficult, and Kittelson found himself in the position of starving artist.

Kittelson longed for Norway, and longed for the magic of the nature of his homeland.
"What appeals to me are the mysterious, romantic, and magnificent aspects of our scenery, but if I cannot henceforth combine this with a wholesome study of Nature I'm afraid I'm bound to stagnate. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me what I have to do, and I have had more ideas - but I must, I must get home, otherwise it won't work."
He returned home to Kragero, but couldn't quite capture the magic he was looking for. His opportunity came when his sister and brother-in-law were going to be tending a lighthouse in the Northern island of Skomvær in the Lofotens, the outermost of this 125-mile chain of islands.

There he found his inspiration and created a book entitled Troll Magic. Kittelson filled this volume with drawings, paintings, poetry and prose, all inspired by the landscape of Nordland. Some stories are humourous, and others are creepy and brooding, as if the winter was slowly falling and darkness coming across the world.

During the late 1880's Kittelson thought of writing a work based on Nordic Myths and Epic stories but in 1889 he came across a woman that would inspire his next work, Black Death, here is his description of this woman who would be titled Pesta in the story:
"She was small, lean, and bent, her face greenish-yellow with black spots. Her eyes were squinting, dark and restless and set deep in her skull now and again a strange, evil light shone in them, and they flickered round in every direction, so that it was impossible to fix her gaze. Her head bobbed up and down. Her mouth moved rapidly - sharp and bitter. She was worse than the plague itself, I thought to myself, hence her name."

In 1896 Kittelson released Black Death, about the horrible ravages the disease put upon Norwegian and Scandinavian people. (Note: The movie The Seventh Seal, by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman is also set in the time of the Black Death in Scandinavia during the 14th century.) It was split up into many poems and prose sections and illustrated by horrific drawings and paintings, as you would imagine. The subject had definitely gone beyond just a meditation upon a woman he named in his head Pesta.

After making Black Death Kittelson moved to Sole for three years and spent his time illustrating and drawing, both for various projects and for his next books People and Trolls, Tirill-Tove and Jomfruland, all considered to be the height of his magical realist nature artwork. He considered everything in nature a inspiration, and he would easily take the next step and bring in fantastical elements to his work. Everything he drew in his natural illustrations would take on a human or troll like shape, which of course is very Norwegian.

Kittelson also was highly productive in landscape artwork at this time, from all seasons of the Norwegian landscape. In 1913 he died.

Kittelson's artwork was obviously in two main veins: Illustrative drawing/etchings and paintings, the paintings tended to be less fantastic than his drawings, more content to play with the beauty of Norway, from its stunning mountains to the deep forests and lakes, and also the Northern mountains and plains.

Kittelson has recieved more recent interest because of his artwork's use on black metal band Burzum's last two black metal albums Hvis lyset tar oss and Filosofem. Burzum's music and Kittelson's artwork actually highly complemented each other, and their inclusion was perfect for those two releases especially.

Kittelson has quickly become one of my personal favorite artists, as he combines the horrific and beautiful into one realized body of artwork, while also creating some majestic and wonderful nature paintings. Kittelson easily stands along-side other painters like Edvard Munch as the high points of Norwegian painting and art.

(Note: Other Norwegian black metal bands have used Kittelson's art extensively, particularly Satyricon and Sigurd Wondgraven (Satyr)'s side project Wondgraven, among others.)

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