Asta Nørregaard is best known for her portraits. She painted a number of portraits of upper-class society members, both men and women. Her more complex figure compositions are perhaps less known, such as the altarpiece in Gjøvik Church (1883) or Julenattsmesse i et fransk kloster (Christmas Night Mass Celebrated in a French Nunnery) (1888–89).
Nørregaard grew up in a military officer's family in the Norwegian capital. She began studying at Bergslien's art school at the age of twenty. She was a student of Eilif Peterssen in Munich from 1875 to 1878 and later studied in Paris. She wanted to specialise in portraiture, though she also painted several landscapes and figure compositions. Nørregaard completed a number of formal portraits on commission.
Portraits of the upper class
The women in upper-class society were particularly keen to have Nørregaard paint their portrait, though she often painted husbands and wives together as a family. Nørregaard most often portrayed women using pastels, while men were portrayed in oil. She also often used pastels when portraying children.
Nørregaard's portraits are often characterised by a strong realism. The viewer is likely convinced that the model looked exactly like the portrait.
A provocative altarpiece
Nørregaard's most prestigious assignment was the altarpiece of Gjøvik Church. The church was designed by architect J. W. Nordan and inaugurated in 1882. The motif of the altarpiece is the comforting Christ, and the composition is dominated by a standing Christ figure. The altarpiece was painted in Paris. It was not well received when it arrived in Gjøvik in 1883; the image of Christ was considered too small and insignificant. As a result, Nørregaard had to change the composition and enlarge the figure of Christ. Nørregaard felt disheartened by this, but at least the congregation in Gjøvik was satisfied.
Anne Wichstrøm: Asta Nørregaard – En livshistorie (Asta Nørregaard - A life Story), 2011
Anne Wichstrøm: Kvinneliv, kunstnerliv (Women's Life, Artist Life), 1997
Anne Wichstrøm: "Pastellen, et feminint medium: Asta Nørregaards pasteller i historisk lys (The Pastel, a Feminine Medium: Asta Nørregaard's Pastels in an Historical Light)." Kunst og kultur (Art and Culture) 2006