Christening in Tanum Church

Harriet Backer
Harriet Backer, "Christening in Tanum Church", 1892
Photo: Børre Høstland


Actor portraying Harriet Backer:
Tanum Church's interior is one of the most beautiful things I have seen. […] I close the door from the inside and use the church as my own studio. It’s a rare pleasure for me who usually works indoors, in people’s homes, while they are at their busiest. 

This quote is from a letter Harriet Backer wrote to her friend Arne Garborg in the summer of 1890, after she happened upon Tanum church in Bærum – 20km west of Oslo.  

At the time, the church was not in use a lot, which suited Backer.  

She enjoyed being able to be there and work without being disturbed by church activities or visitors.  

Tanum church is a stone church from the 12th century, and the light admission that only came from the windows on the south wall, may have inspired Backer a little extra. 

In Christening in Tanum Church, it is not the christening itself that is the subject at all, but the scene when the child is carried into the church.  

We look down the aisle, into the dark church and towards the strong sunlight of the summer day outside. Two young women are sitting in the pew on the right, and one turns and looks towards those arriving. In the same way as the main lines of the image structure, the young woman's attention helps us to look out and towards the little one who will become today's protagonist.  

The interior is depicted in cold colours, in contrast to the warmth outside.  

Here, we, the viewer, are both inside and outside at the same time. 

Backer found several motifs from the church room, and both The Altar in Tanum Church and Christening in Tanum Church are among her main works.