Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord, by Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude, is one of the most well-known and well-loved Norwegian paintings. The scene it portrays is often interpreted as a celebration of Norwegianness: two boats full of people in national dress float along the fjord, surrounded by glaciers and mountains. But this painting did not come into existence against an idyllic fjord backdrop on Norway’s National Day – the seventeenth of May. Instead, our story starts in Düsseldorf, an industrial city in Germany.
Athough Hans Gude was only twenty-two in 1848, he had already been painting in partnership with the somewhat-older Adolph Tidemand for several years. At that time, Düsseldorf was a European culture centre, and the two Norwegians were well established in the city’s artistic community. Gude was known as “Der Luftdoktor” – “The Air Doctor” – and was unrivalled as a painter of clouds and skies.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the market for contemporary art was booming. Artists could now earn a living without relying on the patronage of the church and rich aristocrats. The bourgeoisie, who had done well out of the Industrial Revolution, now had money to spend on art.
For all their wealth, Düsseldorf’s industrialists lacked the magnificent mountain landscapes and clean air of Norway. And so Tidemand and Gude gathered together their sketches from their travels in Western Norway and found they had something they could sell: a dream. The two artists understood their market and how to give people what they wanted.
Tidemand was an expert at painting people and took care of those parts of the paintings, while Der Luftdoktor Gude supplied the surrounding landscapes. In this way, they were able to unite the two key genres of figure and landscape painting into single, large-scale pictures.
At times of rapid social change, it’s not unusual for people to look to the past. It’s easy to understand that middle-class citizens in industrialized Düsseldorf were nostalgic for traditional customs and magnificent natural landscapes. Bridal Procession on the Hardangerfjord was Tidemand and Gude’s response to these yearnings.