Open air

Kitty L. Kielland

16. Jun 2017 - 29. Oct 2017

Kitty L. Kielland (1843–1914) was a pioneering artist. She was the first to treat Jæren as a subject in landscape painting, and one of the first to paint outdoors. The exhibition title Open Air refers both to plein air painting and to freedom of expression – to an ‘open space’ or opportunity to engage in public debate. As an artist, Kielland worked with genres dominated by men. While most female artists at the time painted interiors and portraits, Kielland specialised in landscapes. She took along her sketching materials when exploring the windswept landscapes of Jæren, forests in northern France, calm ponds in Østlandet and Norway’s high mountains. Eventually she took large sheets of canvas as well, and was one of the first to complete a painting while standing in front of actual outdoor subject matter. Kielland made a place for herself in the story of Norwegian landscape painting – a story that up to that point had only involved men.

She used her pen to advocate for issues related to the freedom to love the person of one’s choice, women’s suffrage and women’s right to education. As a participant in social debate, she wrote fiction, articles and numerous letters to newspaper on art, morality and equal rights for women. Her argumentation has an astonishing relevance to today’s debate on gender equality: both men and women have responsibilities in the home and in the workforce. In 1884 Kielland was a co-founder of the Norwegian Association for Women’s Rights.

The exhibition presents the breadth and development of Kielland’s artistic practice, from an early copy of a work by Lars Hertervig, student works from her time studying in Karlsruhe, paintings from her Munich period in the 1870s, works from the 1880s when she lived in Paris, to late paintings produced after she returned to Norway in 1889 and up to the end of her artistic career around 1910. The majority of her oeuvre consists of landscapes, but portraits, interior scenes and still lifes also hold a central position. The exhibition also includes works by artists from whom Kielland drew inspiration, or with whom she worked, among others, Lars Hertervig, Hans Gude, Harriet Backer and Eilif Peterssen.

As one of the first professionally trained Norwegian artists, Kielland absorbed impulses from French painting in the 1880s and introduced Neoromanticism in Norway. In a series of paintings, she depicted quiet ponds, the light summer evening and colour harmony in the sky. Kielland’s favourite subject was nevertheless Jæren’s peat bogs. This theme is highly relevant today in light of the climate debate: scientists repeatedly stress the central role played by peat bogs in the ecosystem. The poet and author Arne Garborg, who was her close friend for many years, once said that Kielland managed to transform the black peatbog into poetry.

Kielland was a pioneer in more areas than her chosen field of art: she concerned herself with the welfare of other artists, helped build Stavanger Art Museum’s oldest collection, and established a fund for the purchase of new art for the National Gallery in Oslo. She was convinced that art should break with tradition and give viewers a feeling of standing before something larger than themselves, even if it was ineffable.

The exhibition is produced by Stavanger Art Museum, in collaboration with Lillehammer Art Museum and Haugar Vestfold Art Museum.

Text: Inger M.L. Gudmundson