This late 19th-century oil painting by Norwegian artist Erik Werenskiold (1855-1938) depicts his friend, the photographer Ingeborg Motzfeldt Løchen (1875-1946).
Spellbinding in a timeless dress, hands perched on the arms of a chair, cheeks rouged with a wintery chill. Here’s Lochen, entirely natural yet intriguingly enigmatic. She’s poised as if about to stand - while her eyes connect as if midway through a candid conversation. There’s romance but it’s not over-dramatised like a Rossetti. And there’s a Renaissance quality, yet it’s more electrifying than a Titian.
This is a sensitive portrayal. Werenskiold knew her well and managed to capture her spirit - depicting this lady in green amid the natural world, akin to flora emerging from a mystical woodland. One can only paint like this when bonded with the sitter and enjoying one’s work.
Werenskiold was a fascinating character, a leading figure in 19th-century Norwegian art. Together with friends Christian Krohg and Frits Thaulow, he worked tirelessly for his peers, creating the ‘Artists' Autumn Exhibition’, as a protest against the ‘old boys network’ of the Christiania Art Society. Throughout his career, he was surrounded by fellow creatives and led by example.
In 1898, when Lochen sat for him, he formed an integral part of the ‘Lysaker Circle’ - a group of artists working in Lysaker, near Oslo. Inspired by the realists, particularly Gustave Courbet, they sought to celebrate rural peasant communities, viewing them as an important link to Norway’s heroic mediaeval past. His ‘Peasant Burial’ is in the collection of the National Museum.
Around this time, Lochen photographed Werenskiold at Lysaker, involved in a ski race. She was part of the scene, gathering inspiration from the daily activities of her creative counterparts. Werenskiold was 20 years older but the respect she had for him was reciprocal. Her portrait of Erik captures an endless curiosity, his eyes intense, alight with worldly wisdom. While his portrait of her sings with creative energy and a sense of historic poignancy.
In 1901, this painting was shown at the Berlin Secession (possibly titled ‘Das Blonde Madchen’) along with works by Rodin, Zorn, Van Gogh (Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe), Pissarro, Renoir, Monet, Israeals, Sargent, and Degas. And in March 1935, it was hung at the Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo as part of a retrospective exhibition - many of those on display are now with museums.
For us, this portrait represents a work of the highest order.
Signed/dated lower right and held within a 19th-century Baroque-revival gilt frame with twisted acanthus leaf detailing.
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 32½” x 39” / 82cm x 99cm
Year of creation: 1898
Labels & Inscriptions: On reverse - exhibition label from the Berliner Secession 1901, exhibition stamp from a retrospective in 1935 catalogue number 65, further exhibition label, possible gallery label.
Condition: Artwork presents well. Minor craquelure but the paint is stable. Frame with some light wear.
Artist’s auction maximum: £272,970
Erik Werenskiold trained at the Drawing School in Christiania, under Axel Ender, and later with Léon Bonnat. He was instrumental in the progression of Norwegian art and worked among key figures such as Edvard Munch, Christian Krohg and Frits Thaulow. His works are held in numerous public collections including the British Museum, the Met Museum and the Kode 3 Museum in Bergen. The National Gallery in Oslo holds 30 paintings and hundreds of drawings.
Learn more about Erik Werenskiold in our directory.