This is a list of the top ten paintings at the National Gallery in Oslo that I like to show when I guide. They are not necessarily the paintings I like best - just the ones the work best for me when I guide. All photos of the paintings are taken from the National Gallery's website.
10: The Scream, Edvard Munch (1893)
Well known internationally, it's usually the only Norwegian painting that visitors are familiar with. Even those who know nothing about art recognize the image of the iconic scream of angst . So I had to include it in this top ten list.
Why only number ten? There's a lot that I can tell groups about the painting, but it's often hard to do so. The painting is very small and there's often people in front of it, which is a hindrance when conducting a tour.
9: The Struggle for Survival, Christian Krogh (1889)
Christian Krogh was a teacher and mentor to Edvard Munch. Naturalism was the style that he mostly painted in. Munch did so initially but broke with Krogh artistically with The Sick Child which started his move towards expressionism.
The Struggle for Survival is a good picture to illustrate how poor Norwegians were in the later part of the 1800's. Krogh, unlike Munch, did not believe in art for art's sake. He wanted to expose and change the wrongs in society through his art.
8: Hans Jæger, Edvard Munch (1889)
This is a portrait of the writer Han Jæger who had a big influence on Munch early on in his career. He was a leading figure among the Christiania (an older name for Oslo) Bohemians in the late 1800's.
7: View From Stalheim, Johan Christian Dahl (1842)
This is an early and prominent painting from the National Romantic movement that dominated the Norwegian cultural scene in the mid 1800's. It's a large painting, so it's easy to present to a group. Most tourists in Norway have seen this view when they have driven through the Nærøy Valley while doing the Norway in a Nutshell Tour.
6: Portrait of Oda Krogh, Christian Krogh (1888)
Christian Krogh's painting of his wife Oda became an icon in Norway's women's liberation movement. Oda was married with children in a prominent family before making the radical decision to leave her bourgeois life, join Christiania's Bohemians and study painting under Christian Krogh. Oda was an accomplished painter. I like her Japanese Lantern .
5: Madonna, Edvard Munch, (1894-1895)
There's no consensus about the meaning of Munch's second most famous painting. Some see religious references in the title and the red halo around the woman. Others see this as an erotic painting that depicts a sexually ecstatic woman. Perhaps the red "halo" was influenced by the red beret in the painting above?
4: Dance of Life, Edvard Munch (1899-1900)
This painting featured in an important Berlin exhibition of Munch's work in 1893. This controversial exhibition was Munch's breakthrough internationally.
In the forefront, we see three women in different phases. The first in virginal white, the second in lustful red and the third in mournful black. The phallic moon reflection appears in many of Munch's paintings.
3: Albertine to See the Police Doctor, Christian Krogh (1887)
In addition to being a renowned painter, Christian Krogh was a crusading journalist and wrote a novel about Albertine, a poor unmarried seamstress who is forced into prostitution in order to survive. The novel was confiscated due to its scandalous subject matter.
This is a scene from the novel that Krogh painted. We see the plainly dressed Albertine by the door going in to see the police doctor who examined prostitutes. It's her first time being subjected to this humiliation. She is observed by colorfully clad seasoned pros who are sizing up the new girl. Krogh used real prostitutes as models for this painting. The painting also caused a scandal. Krogh was able to charge admission to see it and some newspapers refused to advertise it.
2: Winter Night in the Mountains, Harald Sohlberg (1914)
This is considered Harald Sohlberg's masterpiece. With this painting, Sohlberg tried to capture a religious experience he had while skiing in the Rondane mountains. He spent 14 years trying to get it right.
Sohlberg was a neo-romantic, his subject matter returned to the Norwegian nature and countryside that the natural realists had moved away from. Hanging next to this are two other noteworthy Sohlberg paintings. Street in Rorøs drew attention to this small Norwegian mining town that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Summer Night captures the mood of summer nights in Norway.
1: Bridal Voyage on Hardanger Fjord, Gude & Tideman (1848)
You can't get more Norwegian than this painting. It has a fjord, mountains with glacier, a stave church, bunads and a hardanger fiddle. It was a collaboration between two of Norway's greatest painters - Hans Gude who specialized in landscapes and Aldolf Tidemand whose forte was portraits.