A Japanese Lantern
- Artist: Oda Krohg
- Creation date: 1886
- Object type: Painting
A young woman, dressed in white, reclines peacefully against a doorway, with her face turned away from the viewer. She seems lost in the view of the moonlit landscape ahead of her, where a lake lies entirely calm in the dusk; it is summer, and the night sky is blue and the trees are verdant. Above the woman hangs a Japanese lantern, whose high-hanging position against the sky makes it resemble an exotic moon. The lantern is reflected in the door’s shiny casing and pane: resplendent in golden yellow and orange, it creates a warm, atmospheric light in the gloaming.
The picture, drawn in pastel chalk, has a sensitive, lyrical style, and we sense a mood of enigmatic yearning. The dreamy atmosphere is augmented by the blurred contours of the trees and by the mysterious tree trunks that are so curiously slender and upright in the foreground. With this work, Oda Krohg helped introduce neo-romanticism to Norway in the late 1880s. In this movement, artists rejected realism’s more matter-of-fact, impassive depictions of reality in favour of symbolism and romantic themes, such as the luminous summer nights of the north. With its cropping and subdued atmosphere, the picture also shows traces of being inspired by Japanese art, as was often the case in Western paintings at the time.
Along with her husband, the artist Christian Krohg, Oda Krohg was one of the leading lights of the countercultural movement known in the 1880s and 1890s as “the Kristiania bohemians”. She created many innovative and well-known works that have kept their prominent position in Norwegian art history.
Born 1860 in Åsgårdstrand, death 1935 in Oslo
Oda Krohg was seen as a particularly independent woman in her day. She did not feel bound by norms and rules. She divorced, had children out of wedlock, chose an art education and went to cafés alone.
Oda Krohg painted several portraits, among them the outspoken Margrethe Vullum. Vullum was a literary critic, journalist and political activist, especially for women’s rights. Aasta Hansteen was another prominent female figure painted by Oda Krohg.
Othilia Pauline Christine Lasson grew up in an intellectual, bourgeois environment in Kristiania, now Oslo, as the third of 10 children. Her father was attorney general Christian Lasson and her mother was Alexandra von Munthe af Morgenstierne. From 1870, the family lived in a villa in Grønnegate in Homansbyen in the capital.
All the daughters in the family received training in artistic pursuits such as music, handicrafts and visual arts. Several of Lasson’s siblings would make a name for themselves in the arts: Per as a composer and musician, sister Alexandra (who later married Frits Thaulow) in arts and crafts, and Bokken as a singer and revue performer.
Strong and independent
Othilia, or Oda as she was called, married Jørgen Engelhart in 1881, just months after her mother had passed away. The marriage was short-lived; after two children and her husband's bankruptcy, Oda left him. Her new life as a single mother was challenging. Her family could likely have helped her financially, but she was determined to fend for herself.
An artistic family
Oda wanted to study art, but there were few opportunities to pursue an arts education in 19th-century Kristiania. The established artist Christian Krohg ended up as her supervisor. She was his student for about one and a half years. It was her only formal art education, something she would later be criticised for. Oda married Christian Krohg in 1888, by which time they already had a child together, Nana. Their son Per was born the same year they were married. Both children became artists. Many of Oda Krohg's motifs are related to the family, and she often used her own children and family members as models.
The pastel from 1887, Japansk lykt (A Japanese Lantern), is a particularly romantic image, symmetrically built around the glow of the paper lantern and the tree outside, in the middle of the bright Nordic summer night. The model for the picture may have been one of Oda Krogh's sisters.
New approaches for a new art era
In En abonnent på Aftenposten (A subscriber to Aftenposten) we see how the child plays with the newspaper and a pair of scissors. The motif is seen from above, with a bold cropping. Krohg has framed a close-up of the motif, with none of the conventional division lines in the composition, or distinctions between foreground, middle ground and background. This was the new art, of which Christian Krohg was an eager proponent.
The National Museum's newly purchased painting Christian ved staffeliet (Christian at the Easel) depicts Christian Krohg as he sits and paints. With his characteristic hat and long beard, he sits on a wooden chair with the brush on the canvas in front of him. We see him partly from the side, partly from behind. The painting is in small format, and as in an impressionist study, the motif is depicted with clear brushstrokes and a lot of light.
The Kristiania Bohemians
Christian Krohg and Hans Jæger were considered leading figures in what was referred to as the Kristiania Bohemians, a movement that questioned social conditions such as contemporary double standards and unjust class systems. Oda Krohg was fearless, and participated in discussions where only men were expected to have opinions.
Oda was a portrait subject and sat as a model for other visual artists. She also appears as a literary character. Hans Jæger's character Vera in the trilogy Syk Kjærlihet (Sick Love), Bekjendelser (Confessions) and Fængsel og Fortvilelse (Prison and Despair) shares many characteristics with Oda Krohg. She may also have been the inspiration for Thora in Jappe Nilssen's novel Nemesis and Sigbjørn Obstfelder's Rebekka in Korset (The Cross). Gunnar Heiberg, with whom Oda lived between 1897 and 1902 in Paris, may have used her as the model for Julie in his play Balkongen (The Balcony) and for Karen in Kjærlighetens tragedie (The Tragedy of Love).
Oda and Christian forever and always <3
After the relationship with Heiberg ended, Oda and Christian Krohg got back together, and Christian painted several portraits of his beloved Oda. He had previously painted one of Norwegian art history's most beautiful portraits: Malerinnen Oda Krohg (Portrait of the Painter Oda Krohg). Here we see a woman with a big, beaming smile, wearing a red blouse and with her hair falling loosely down her shoulders. This is the woman in whom Krohg was so deeply in love!