At the Mirror

  • Artist: Ludvig Karsten
  • Creation date: 1914
  • Object type: Painting


Ludvig Karsten is often hailed as one of Norway’s foremost colourist painters. In his pictures, it is colours alone that define both the spatial volumes and the lighting. Karsten contended that it was not the use of multitudinous colours that characterized a good colourist painter: rather, it was a matter of using few colours, the so-called “triple-harmony combinations”, where two main colours – often red and green – were modulated against a third colour. The artist could then employ the entire scale until the colours started to “sing”. Karsten also insisted that art was “a matter of nerve” and that it was the artist’s preliminary touch that was the very essence of art. An artist should create pictures by way of “shivering”, he felt, adding that “I cannot create better pictures by standing around and retouching them”. He was following in Munch’s footsteps here, and Karsten’s pictures often have the air of being battlefields of hasty brushstrokes and turpentine-dripping colour. He wanted to retain his immediate impression of the image, such as it had stuck in his mind’s eye and taken hold of his being, before too much reflection ruined it all.

At the Mirror, painted during a brief visit to Paris in the spring of 1914, is emblematic of how easy – and how difficult – this was. Representations of female nudes and mirrors, which have deep roots in European art history, allow for fascinating depth effects and the charged, erotic atmosphere of the boudoir. Karsten’s pictures were very much in vogue among his contemporaries and it was immediately snapped up by one of his many admirers, the Norwegian shipowner and art collector Tryggve Sagen. The National Gallery purchased the picture from Sagen in 1922.

Text: Nils Messel

From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0


Ludvig Karsten


Born 1876 in Oslo, death 1926 in Paris, Frankrike

Work info

Creation date:
Other titles:
Foran speilet (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
  • Width: 81 cm
  • Height: 65 cm
  • Depth: 2.1 cm
Acquired 1922
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Børre Høstland/Lathion, Jacques