Discovering Kittelsen and Vasnetsov: Life Inside a Fairytale

Theodor Kittelsen’s self-portrait (1891) (on left) and Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov’s portrait (right)

Who
would not want to live in a fairytale for at least one day of our
life? Has it never crossed your mind to make home an imaginative
world where beauty stands side by side with danger, where everything
is possible and where the daily routine simply does not exist.

Everyone
of us lived there once, when we were children. Remember old days when
our life was full of kings and princesses, evil magicians, trolls,
dragons and other fairy tale creatures. Where did we get them? They
all were summoned in our books of unbelievable adventures hundreds of
years ago. And we all were brought up reading or mainly looking at
illustrations of old fairy tales. Now for many of us these days are
gone. But there were at least two artists in our near history who
discovered traditional fairy tales’ infinite richness of motives and
who even managed to convert their own lives into an everlasting
fairytale.

One
of them you should know well, if you are familiar with the Norwegian
folklore. He is Theodor Kittelsen, who made illustrations for the
most famous “Norske
Folkeeventyr

– Norwegian Folktales written by two folklore collectors Peter
Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. It is related that the
well-known image of the Norwegian troll was actually created by
Kittelsen.

An
Eventyrlystne
Life

Kittelsen
was born in Kragerø, Telemark county, and studied art first in
Christiania (Oslo) then in Munich and Paris. After almost 10 years
spent abroad Kittelsen returned back home. And the marvellous nature
of Norway became his main inspiration. He spent several years in
Lofoten Islands, where he enjoyed magnificent view of the Norwegian
landscape and painted his famous “Ekko”.

Through
almost 30 years he produced illustrations for the old Norwegian folk
tales, some of them in cooperation with another distinguished
Norwegian painter Erik Werenskiolds (author of “En
bondebegravelse

and “Fra
Telemark
“).
As a natural cross between the actual and virtual, Kittelsen gave
permanent life to people’s fantasy notion about the water spirit
Neck
and the forest “troll”.

Despite
having been highly respected and well-known in Norway, it’s a pity
that he does not get enough attention abroad. There are several
museums which has exhibitions of his paintings or somehow connected
to him. Huge collection of his works is being exhibited in the
National Gallery of Oslo. But Lauvlia, his home, is even more worth
visiting for those who want to feel the atmosphere of the very heart
of Norwegian nature.

Lauvlia
is located in the north of Prestfoss along Route 287 and has a view
of Lake Soneren. The surrounding area inspired some of Kittelsen’s
most famous landscapes. Lauvlia is a private museum now featuring an
exhibition of Kittelsen’s original work. The house is decorated
with Kittelsen’s own woodcarvings and murals.

Neighboring
Twin

His
contemporary and colleague from the neighbor country Russia, Victor
Vasnetsov has also turned his life into a fairytale by making his
home a traditional Russian house “teremok“.
Every piece of furniture in this fairy tale like house is made of
carved wood (made by Vasnetsov himself), traditional Russian stoves
in each room are decorated with ceramic tile which was created by
another famous Russian artist Mikhail Vrubel, walls are covered with
lots of paintings by famous artists (usually Vasnetsov’s friends).

Vasnetsov’s
visitors included P.Tretyakov, I.Repin, V.Surikov, V.Polenov,
F.Shalyapin, V.Serov and S.Mamontov. But the most valuable treasures
are stored on the second floor of the house ceiling of which is two
times higher than the one on the first floor. The whole floor is one
big room – painter’s studio where huge paintings of Vasnetsov are
available for admiring. His art is based on medieval Russian national
and folklore traditions. And when you come to his studio you enter a
gloomy thick forest where witches and three-headed dragons are
watching you. There you also meet beautiful Russian women in their
traditional clothes as well as warrior knights from the traditional
Russian adventure books called “byliny“.

This
house became a retreat from the noise and bustle of the outside world
where the artist found the spiritual peace and inspiration to create
his works of art. This magical house is easy to find in the center of
Moscow, on Vasnetsov Pereulok next to the metro station “Prospect
mira

near a church.

We
all remember our childhood as the most wonderful and magical time in
our lives. We were sitting on the floor, mesmerized by the catching
plot of adventures and fairy tales. If we could not digest the
meaning or moral messages of some tales – pictures helped us! Some of
them were funny, others scared us, but they made us become involved
in the story and sometimes even lost there. It happened thanks to the
artists who painted those beautiful illustrations. They managed to
make them so lively because they literally lived in those fairy
tales.

Th. Kittelsen’s Askeladdens eventyr (Soria Moria)

Viktor
Vasnetsov’s masterpiece, “The Flying Carpet”

Biography of the painters

Theodor
Severin Kittelsen (27 April 1857 – 21 January 1914) was a Norwegian
painter who is one of the most popular artists in Norway. Kittelsen
became famous for his nature paintings, as well as for his
illustrations of fairy tales and legends, especially of trolls.

Kittelsen
was born in the coastal town of Kragerø in Telemark county, Norway.
His father died at an early age, leaving a wife and eight children in
difficult circumstances. Theodor was only 11 years old when he was
apprenticed to a watchmaker. When at the age of 17 his talent was
discovered by Diderich Maria Aall, he became a pupil at Wilhelm von
Hanno’s drawing school in Oslo.

Theodor
Kittelsen and his family settled in a home and artist studio which he
called Lauvlia near Prestfoss during 1899. Kittelsen spent his best
artistic years here. During this period, Kittelsen was hired to
illustrate Norwegian Folktales. In 1908 he was made Knight of the The
Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav. However, he was forced to sell and
leave Lauvlia in 1910 as his health began to fail. He was granted an
artist’s stipend in 1911 but died a broken man in 1914.

Theodor
Kittelsen’s home Lauvlia, museum i Sigdal

Viktor
Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov was a Russian artist who specialized in
mythological and historical subjects. He is considered the co-founder
of Russian folklorist and romantic modernist painting and a key
figure in the revivalist movement

A
minor planet 3586 Vasnetsov, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila
Zhuravlyova in 1978 is named after Viktor Vasnetsov and Apollinary
Vasnetsov.

In
the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Vasnetsov’s painting of Ivan the
Terrible is anachronistically presented as if it already existed in
that Tsar’s lifetime, and as being sent by Ivan to England when he
offers to marry Queen Elizabeth I.

Victor
Vasnetsov’s house museum’s website

Source:
Jo Nesbø Self Biography/TNP November Issue

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