Harriet Backer. Every Atom is Colour

Oil painting of a woman reading a news paper
  • 30 September 2023–14 January 2024
  • The National Museum – The Light Hall

This exhibition is an opportunity to discover the art of Harriet Backer. With a large selection of her paintings, it describes Backer’s life, artistic development, and position in society during a period when women’s rights were undergoing radical change.

Listen to 16 audio stories about Harriet Backer

The history of Harriet Backer

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The play of colour and light

Harriet Backer (1845–1932) was one of Norways most significant artists. Many of her paintings are interiors, in which she explores the effects of natural light in clear intense colours. When in 1883 she exhibited Blue Interior for the first time, the Norwegian art historian Andreas Aubert captured the essence of her style with the words “Every atom is colour”.

Backer’s early ambition was to become a portrait painter. Although today she is best known for her interiors and landscapes, she continued to paint portraits throughout her career. A number of these can be seen in the exhibition, including her only self-portrait.

Private spaces

Harriet Backer was deeply interested in colour, light, and the interiors she painted. In addition, as a portrait painter, it was important for her to know the people who sat for her. Many of her subjects were friends, whom she painted in familiar surroundings, but she also depicted people from very different social circles.

She sought out private homes, small farmhouses and chilly church interiors, portraying people in the spaces where they lived, worked, and felt at ease. A christening, a painful parting, friends playing cards, a woman doing needlework because she has to, another playing the piano to entertain guests.

Role model for a new generation

When seeking to establish herself as an artist, Backer approached the domination of the art world by men as a challenge. As a champion of women’s rights, she distinguished herself more by what she did than what she said, and many were highly appreciative of the paths she opened in the fields of art and social development.

Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Ukjent fotograf

About the exhibition

The exhibition is a collaboration between the National Museum and Kode, and is supported by Sparebankstiftelsen DNB, Bergesenstiftelsen, H. Westfal-Larsen and hustru Anna Westfal-Larsens Almennyttige Fond, Yvonne og Bjarne Rieber, and Ragnhild Willumsen Grieg and Per Grieg Jr.

It will be shown first in the National Museum in autumn 2023, before travelling on to Nationalmuseum in Stockholm and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The exhibition’s final stop is Kode in Bergen in spring 2025.

Explore the exhibition in 3D