The Farewell

Harriet Backer
Harriet Backer, »The Farwell», 1878
Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Børre Høstland


Munich. Germany. 1874. 

Women were not allowed access to the renowned art academy in the city. 

At 29 years old, Harriet Backer was determined to travel there to continue her studies, convinced that she could find private tuition. 

Traditionally, the academies would have strict drawing exercises throughout the day, but those in attendance also painted at night in less formal, social settings.  

In The Farewell, we can see how Backer uses her skills that she learnt in Munich – high levels of details and dark colours - in an ambitious painting with several figures. 

We see a young woman about to leave her family. The father is still sitting at the coffee table, and the mother hides a tear-soaked face in a chalky white handkerchief. Perhaps they could be saying goodbye forever…?  

This painting stands out from her later work because of the meticulous details and textures.  

The rendering of fur, leaves on flowers, skin, furniture details - even in the white linen cloth, the folds after the rolling of the fabric – are exceptionally depicted.  

Backer initially wanted to train as a portrait painter but changed course along the way.  

Avskjeden showcases Backer’s skill at presenting the subject in great detail before her painting style changed following her move to Paris.