During the 19th century, collections of prints and drawing were established in many European countries. These had their origins in large aristocratic collections. It was an age that fostered the ideals of intellectual cultivation, learning and education.
In Norway as well there was a desire to improve people’s knowledge of European culture. But here it was necessary to start almost from scratch. In 1877, the art historian Lorentz Dietrichson issued an “Invitation to establish an Engravings Collection in Christiania [Oslo]”, encouraging private citizens to donate artworks or money, and founding a society on the very same day. The public responded with impressive generosity. By the following year, the collection already had some 5 000 items!
Acknowledging a responsibility to support the new institution, the state agreed to provide annual funding. The king offered the use of a pavilion in the grounds of the Royal Palace. There the collection opened to the public three days a week. In 1883, it was moved to the top floor of the newly built Sculpture Museum, where the National Gallery was already in place on the floor below. The institutions lived side by side until 1908, when the “Christiania Collection of Engravings and Drawings” was formally incorporated into the National Gallery.
The collection of around 17 000 Norwegian drawings is a priceless record of Norwegian art history. Here one finds everything from travel sketches to independent drawings by Norway’s most prominent artists. Highlights from the collection include Johan Christian Dahl’s sketchbook from his Italian journey of 1820–21, original versions of the illustrations for Asbjørnsen and Moe’s collections of Norwegian folk tales, Theodor Kittelsen’s Water Sprite and Black Death drawings, illustrations for Snorri Sturluson’s Sagas by, among others, Erik Werenskiold and Gerhard Munthe, Adolph Tidemand’s folk-costume studies, and much more.
The non-Norwegian part of the drawing collection comprises around 2 000 items, primarily by older European masters. Several of the best known names in art history are represented here.
The non-Norwegian part of the drawing collection comprises around 2,000 items, primarily by older European masters. Several of the best known names in art history are represented here:
- Guido Reni
- Annibale Carracci
- Elisabetta Sirani
- Jean-Honoré Fragonard
- Vincent van Gogh
- August Heinrich
- Not least, the National Museum has the largest collection outside Dresden of drawings by the German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich.
The collection of Norwegian prints consists of some 10,000 items covering the period from around 1800 to the present, including a considerable number of illustrative plates from the 19th century.
All the major Norwegian artists who worked in the print medium are represented, including:
- Edvard Munch
- Nikolai Astrup
- John Savio
- Rolf Nesch
- Anna-Eva Bergman
- Per Kleiva
- Sidsel Westbø
- Zdenka Rusova
Since its founding in 1877, the collection has been acquiring both recent and older prints from outside Norway. This part of the collection now runs to roughly 20 000 items. In the past, print reproductions of well-known artworks were an important resource for helping Norwegians to learn about the history of art elsewhere in the world. It is therefore no surprise that the collection contains so many print reproductions of international art. In addition, there are original prints by great artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and
Francisco Goya, a well-preserved collection of Japanese woodcuts, complete sets of Toulouse-Lautrec’s cover for Elles and of Pablo Picasso’s Suite Vollard.
Due to their sensitivity to light, works on paper can only be exhibited for short periods of time.
In the new National Museum there will be temporary exhibitions in a dedicated gallery for prints and drawings and frequent rotation of works from the prints and drawings collection in the permanent exhibitions. Here too there will be a study room, where visitors can get close to the art – a tradition that dates back to 1877. Welcome!