Ever since I first saw this picture, I haven’t been able to let go of it. It’s the battle for women’s rights, it’s politics – all in a single piece of art.
The picture that National Museum art historian Lin Stafne-Pfisterer is talking about is a masterpiece painted in 1935 by the Norwegian surrealist Karen Holtsmark – “The Human and the Conditions”.
For Karen Holtsmark, it was all about mankind. Mankind with its ideas, instincts, emotions and intellect. And these three figures we see in the painting, together they comprise a kind of essence of being human. And yes, it’s about the fact that mankind isn’t only made up of men, as many people would have thought at that time.
Holtsmark was strongly influenced by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, but after a visit to the Soviet Union in 1933, Russian art occupied a larger place in her life. At that time, she was also becoming increasingly interested in radical politics and in surrealist ideas about human emotions and the subconscious.
She was one of only a very few important surrealists in Norway. She really made her name in the art world in 1935, which was kind of the big year for surrealism. She said herself, “the picture came to me in a dream, and the dream took me by the hand and helped me to paint this picture”.
But unlike the case with many other surrealists, reason and thought were also very important to Holtsmark. And she was passionate about politics; she wanted a better world and equal rights for everyone. And she was also quite open in saying that feminist perspectives and politics were things that she was committed to and wanted to convey in her art.