Geometric shapes with different degrees of transparency overlap each other in various ways. The shapes create spatial effects and form a kind of abstract parallel universe. But there, at the top right, among all the abstract shapes: is a yellow bird!
This is Eilif Salemonsen, art historian at the national museum, speaking about The firebird. Stravinsky dream. Painted by the Norwegian artist Karen Holtsmark.
When Holtsmark was in Paris in 1934, the music that Igor Stravinsky had composed for the fairy-tale ballet "The Firebird" made a strong impression on her. The ballet's story is based on a Russian folk tale about a magical firebird, and in the music, Stravinsky incorporates elements from Russian folk music. At the same time, he experiments with ground-breaking stylistic elements and compositional techniques that had great significance for the development of modern art-music in the 20th century.
In the painting, Holtsmark immerses herself in the colors and the rhythms and tones of the shapes, and recreates some of the same intensity and power that she had experienced with Stravinsky's dreamlike universe.
It has been argued that it was the encounter with Stravinsky's music that caused Holtsmark to develop a spontaneous, surrealist idiom at this time.
In the same year that she painted this picture, in 1935, there is a quote by Holtsmark in an article in the Danish surrealist journal Konkretion:
"We want to create our own images from the forms we have within ourselves, not in the usual forms that the painters of the past have created. Then each shape and each line will live its own life and give us messages about something we would otherwise have no idea about."
Holtsmark is one of modernism's leading representatives in Norwegian visual art, and she is one of the few Norwegian painters who is associated with surrealism.
Holtsmarks fascination with Stravinsky's "Firebird" was so strong that her family chose to play the piece at her funeral.