Far, far away Soria Moria Palace shimmered like Gold
- Artist: Theodor Kittelsen
- Creation date: (1900)
- Object type: Painting
For many people, Theodor Kittelsen’s portrayal of the Ash Lad who sees Soria Moria Palace in the distance has become a symbol of both hope for the future and the dream of succeeding in life.
At last the Ash Lad sees his goal – the shining Soria Moria Palace – on the horizon. Theodor Kittelsen tells the story: “Then he packed his lunch in his old sack and went out into the wide world to find the palace. His journey led him through forests and valleys, and over hills and mountains. Far, far away something that looked like a little star was shining. He got closer and closer, and then further away, east of the sun and west of the moon, Soria Moria Palace shimmered like gold.” The painting has come to symbolise the dream of success.
The picture was painted in 1900, as part of the 12-painting series “Soria Moria Palace”. The illustrated children’s book, featuring Kittelsen’s own text, was published for the first time in 1911.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained
The folk tale “Soria Moria Palace” was first published in written form by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in the early 1840s. Over 15 years after Erik Werenskiold had illustrated the fairy tale for the first time in 1884, Kittelsen painted his series and also wrote his own version of the story. All twelve paintings were exhibited at the Blomqvist art gallery and were purchased by the National Gallery the same year they were painted. The paintings depict the Ash Lad’s encounters with a bear, a dragon and a golden bird, among others, while he is on his way to free the princess in the castle. A battle with the troll is inevitable, and the series of pictures conforms with the traditional fairy tale, including a happy ending involving the wedding of the hero and the princess.
The Ash Lad – hero or anti-hero?
You might be familiar with the Ash Lad from Theodor Kittelsen’s drawings for the fairy tale “The Ash Lad and His Good Helpers” or “The Ash Lad Who Had an Eating Match With a Troll”, or from Erik Werenskiold’s drawings for “The Soria Moria Palace”. Many also associate him with Ivo Caprino’s fairy-tale films of the 1960s. Caprino’s films were based on the folk tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe, and he was clearly inspired by the drawings of his predecessors, Werenskiold and Kittelsen. The films The Ash Lad: In the Hall of the Mountain King (2016) and The Ash Lad: In Search of the Golden Castle (2019), directed by Mikkel Brænne Sandemose, also draw on many recognisable elements from older texts and pictures.
The Ash Lad figure is often referred to by other names in the folk tales, such as Espen, Tyrihans, Ash-blower, “the boy” or “the youngest one”. In the original version of the Soria Moria fairy tale he is named Halvor. The Ash Lad is the youngest of three brothers who grow up in a poor farming family. Nobody expects much of him, least of all his older brothers, Per and Pål. The Ash Lad prefers to take it easy, and daydreams as he pokes the ashes of the fire with a stick. As it turns out, he is neither stupid nor lazy as his brothers believe. The youngest son waits for the right moment, and displays both intelligence and determination when confronting the challenges that arise along his path. Some would say that he has more courage than sense, but perhaps the Ash Lad was wise to sit by the hearth and reflect on the many sides of life before leaving to see the world. His solutions are often creative, and his actions are always founded on kindness to those he meets along his way. And it is no secret that he always wins in the end. His reward is usually vast amounts of gold and silver, or the princess and half the kingdom.
The same year that Kittelsen painted the series, the pictures were shown at Blomqvist Kunsthandel in Kristiania and purchased by the National Gallery.
Born 1857 in Kragerø, death 1914 in Jeløya, Norge
Although the figures portrayed in Nøkken (The Monster of the Lake), Skogtrollet (The Forest Troll) and Pesta (The Black Death) are over 100 years old, they still resonate as icons within the minds of many Norwegians. But who is the artist who created these legendary characters?
As a young man Theodor Kittelsen wanted to become a painter, but it would be his drawings that brought him the greatest success. Here he found an outlet for his sense of humour and his enthusiasm for stories, fairy tales, the comedic and, not least, the magic of nature. Kittelsen’s pictures of the Ash Lad, trolls, princesses and animals have captured the imaginations of generation after generation. In Troldskab (Magic), a series of mystical images of the natural world illustrating Kittelsen’s own texts, he portrayed nature and natural forces that he himself had experienced at first hand. The boy gazing at the golden palace in the distance, from the series of paintings Soria Moria slott (Soria Moria Palace), has become a symbol of the dream of succeeding in life.
Moods of nature
“It is not the dramatic ‘effects’ of nature that I am concerned about. It is the mystical aspect of it, the calm, the secretive…”Kittelsen, Aftenposten (newspaper), 9 October 1904
Kittelsen’s close connection with his natural surroundings – not only their mystical and secretive aspects, but also their subtle and evocative ones – is reflected in his drawings. The drawings from Lofoten, which he executed while living there, are among his most important works. The same can be said of his lovely, subdued watercolours from Jomfruland, depicting the luminous summer landscape of the outermost skerries by Kragerø. He often used realistic renditions of the landscape as a basis for his works, but incorporated elements of age-old legends to introduce an extra dimension. Again, these bear witness to his love of drawing and ability to combine different techniques. As a young man Kittelsen was not fond of winter, but as he grew older he became increasingly fascinated by the process of rendering snow and snow-covered landscapes. Snow-laden spruce trees containing bullfinches or leaping squirrels are transformed into captivating winter fairy tales.
The illustrations for Svartedauen (The Black Death) reveal Kittelsen’s great skill in creating a series. Here he combined historical material from the Middle Ages with his own pull towards the dark and melancholy in nature. The pictures, texts and vignettes were based on stories of the rural population’s encounters with folktales about the black plague and death. The landscapes and buildings in the series can also be traced back to various places where the artist himself had lived, from the Sole farm in Eggedal to Sund in Lofoten. The gaunt, crooked figure representing the plague is an unpleasant reminder of the hardships and distress of the past. The combination of pencil with wash, charcoal and wax crayon serves to intensify the atmosphere of the pictures.