Photo: © Bank of Finland
Without looking far, when trying to think of an ideal Finnish landscape, Werner Holmberg’s (1830–1860) realistic but romanticised work comes to mind. In the last year of his life, in 1860, the fact is that Holmberg painted a work, now part of the Atheneum collection, actually depicting a Norwegian landscape, not a Finnish one. The same fact concerns the Holmberg painting in the Bank of Finland’s collection. Its name “From Ringerike” tells us that it is Norway. The amusing detail is that this Finnish landscape painting by Holmberg was bought (1859) by someone in Norway.
HIn 1858, Holmberg travelled to Christiania, (later Oslo), in order to marry Anna Glad, the daughter of a Norwegian general. In the course of this journey he sketched the local sights, of which the Ringerike region was central. He finished the work while studying in Düsseldorf, where he eventually settled down. It was here in Düsseldorf that young Holmberg partied with Germany’s leading landscape artists of the day and he was predicted to become ‘the next Hans Gude’, his Norwegian-born teacher. He was also offered a professorship at the St Petersburg Academy of Art.
Although the sketch of Ringerike was done during his walks along the birch-covered slopes, the finished work does not really resemble the views themselves. The artist finished the fine diagonal lines of his composition in his atelier and illuminated varios parts of the picture in order to create a rich rhythm of colour and light. These have created the landscape’s open perspective and the impression of an idyllic summer’s day. Holmberg placed a slightly mundane female cowherd on the path along with a small herd of cattle. The artist had only recently become acquainted with the French artist Rosa Bonheur’s paintings of cows and had thought that he should learn from her. The view therefore is Norwegian, the cows are French and the painting style is German.
As a painting, “From Ringerike” is said to be unfinished. The lower front edge of the painting has been left painted with very light strokes and its form is imprecise. What if this is deliberate? One of the techniques employed in painting with watercolours, which was a medium Holmberg also used, was to leave part of the paper untouched by paint. Additionally, close examination of the front edge, does not match what is seen. It gives the impression of distance to the lower front of the painting. Was this optical illusion Holmberg’s intention? The question remains unanswered.
Holmberg was only praised for his “genius” in Finland at his memorial exhibition. There would have been reason for it earlier, as Holmberg was Finland’s first truly competent international landscape artist.