From Munch to Ibsen: a ranking of Norway’s 10 finest artists

Despite its location in the northern periphery of the European continent. Norway has produced several influential artists, including writers, painters, and composers.

This includes the likes of Henrik Ibsen, one of the most influential playwrights of all time. It also includes Edvard Munch, one of the most prominent expressionist painters who painted “the scream” one of the iconic images of world art.

In this article, we will take a look at 10 of the most influential Norwegian artists throughout history.

Edvard Grieg

Edvard Grieg is Norway’s most famous composer and pianist. He is also regarded as one of the most prominent composers of the romantic era in the 19th century.

He was born in Bergen in 1807 into a musical family. By the age of 15, his talent was recognized by prominent Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, which persuaded his parents to send him to study music at the Leipzig conservatory.

Despite serious health challenges, he graduated and went on to have a successful career spanning several decades from the 1860s to the early 1900s.

His interpretation and development of Norwegian folk music in his compositions brought the music of Norway to international consciousness. 

It also helped to develop a national identity which was a strong driving force to Norway gainings its independence from Sweden in 1905.

Some of his most famous works include “in the hall of the mountain king” and “Morning mood” composed for Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt.

Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen is a familiar name for most people interested in playwrights and theatre. He is considered one of the founders of modernism in theatre and one of the most influential playwrights of his time.

Ibsen was born in Skien, and after a stint as an apprentice pharmacist, he moved to Oslo (then Christiania) to pursue a career in playwriting. 

Despite several attempts, he was not allowed to enroll in the university, but this did not deter a young Ibsen. Despite writing several plays while working as a theatre director, they received little acclaim. 

It was not until he wrote the play “Brand” in 1965, 15 years after his first play that he received the critical acclaim he sought. 

This was followed by several influential plays considered to be his best work over the next 30 years, including “Peer Gynt”, “Hedda Gabler” “The Dolls House” and “The Wild Duck”. 

Knut Hamsun

Knut Hamsun was a Norwegian writer who is celebrated as one of the most influential and innovative literary stylists of the past hundred years. 

He pioneered a style of psychological literature that influenced several prominent writers, including Ernest Hemingway and Franz Kafka.

Hamsun had a troubled childhood, largely due to being mistreated by his uncle, to whom he had been sent to to help run a post office.

Hamsun would later work several odd jobs and even spent several years in America. This inspired his first novel which was released in 1877. 

Hamsun first received wide acclaim with his 1890 novel Hunger (Sult). This semi-autobiographical work described a young writer’s descent into near madness as a result of hunger and poverty.

Hamsun released what is considered his monumental work, the epic “Growth of the Soil ” in 1917 which earned him a Nobel prize in literature in 1920, cementing his legacy as a novelist.

Hamsun’s reputation was damaged during the war, as he supported the German war effort. He even courted and met with high-ranking Nazi officers, including Adolf Hitler. 

His views on the Germans during the war were serious grief for the Norwegians, and he was even tried and fined after the war. Despite the controversy, Hamsun’s stature in Norwegian literature remains.

Edvard Munch

Edvard Munch is the most famous Norwegian painter to date. His childhood was overshadowed by death and the dread of inheriting a mental disease that ran in the family.

Despite not getting seriously ill or being affected by the mental illness he so much dreaded, his health was still poor. He was frequently ill during the winters and was often kept out of school for longer periods of time.

To keep him occupied when out of school, Munch would draw. This would eventually lead him to enroll at the royal school of art and design.

Here he was taught by the prestigious painter Kristian Krogh. He also befriended nihilist Hans Jæger who would influence Munch to live a bohemian life which influenced his painting.

Munch adopted a style of painting that was inspired by naturalism and impressionism. He also traveled to Europe where he would be influenced by other painters such as Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. 

The Scream is Munch’s most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in the world. It has been widely interpreted as representing the universal anxiety of the modern man. 

Other famous mich paintings include Madonna, The sick child, the girls on the bridge, and vampire.

Despite his art being labeled degenerate by the Nazis who occupied Norway during the second world war. Munch’s art survived and is currently on display in the Munch Museum in Oslo.

Christian Krogh

Christian Krohg was a Norwegian naturalist painter, illustrator, author, and journalist. 

He studied both law and arts during his 20s and spent time in the Baden School of art in Karlsruhe and Königliche Akademie in Berlin

After receiving a  government travel allowance, Krohg traveled across to gain inspiration. He would also teach at the Norwegian school of art, where he mentored a young Edvard Munch. 

Krogh worked in Paris from 1881 to 1882. Here he was inspired by the realism art movement and often chose motifs from everyday life, often its darker or socially inferior sides.

An example of this is Albertine in the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room which is considered Kroghs principal work as a painter.

The painting depicts a scene in a police doctor’s waiting room. “Albertine”, dressed in a simple costume, stands in contrast to the other women in the room, who are dolled up in colorful dresses, typical of the prostitutes of the period.

Krogh is considered to be among the most prestigious Norwegian painters to date. Notable collections of his art can be found in the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design in Oslo and at Skagens Museum in Denmark.

Theodor Kittelsen

Theodor Kittelsen is one of the most popular artists in Norway. In addition to his nature paintings, Kittelsen is famous for his illustrations of fairy tales and legends, especially of trolls.

His talent for drawing was discovered by Diderich Aall, a Norwegian lawyer, shipowner, and art collector, who would support him financially as he became a student at Wilhelm von Hannos drawing school in Christiania (now Oslo).

After studying abroad in both Munich and Paris, Kittelsen return to Norway for good in 1887. Here he found nature to be a great inspiration that would inspire much of his work as an artist.

Kittelsen’s style had elements of Neo-Romantic and naïve painting. Some of his most famous and recognizable works include “Soria Moria”, ‘“the nix”, and “Forest troll”. 

His focus on Norwegian motifs, folklore, and fairytales has made him highly respected and well-known in Norway but prevented him from gaining much international attention.

Sigrid Undset

Sigrid Undset was a Norwegian-Danish novelist. Born in Denmark in 1882, her family moved to Norway and Christiania (now Oslo) when she was two only two years old.

After her father passed away, the family’s economic situation deteriorated. She had to abandon any thought of a university education and began working as a secretary at the age of 16.

While working, Undset would study and write. At the age of 25, Undset made her literary debut with “Fru Marta Oulie”, a short realistic novel on adultery, set against a contemporary background.

After publishing 2 other novels with a realistic theme, as well as a failed marriage to a Norwegian painter Undset settled in Lillehammer. 

Here she would Write “Kristin Lavransdatter” a trilogy of historic novels, which would become her principal work as a writer.

The novel follows the life of Kristin Lavransdatter, a fictitious Norwegian woman living in the 14th century and It would form the basis of Undset receiving the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was a Poet, novelist, playwright, lyricist, and the first Norwegian Nobel laureate, being awarded the prize in 1903.

Bjørnson was born in Kvikne, a rural village in Østerdalen in central Norway in 1832. Bjørnson showed talent as a writer from a young age and had written several poems at the age of 11.

He enrolled at the University of Oslo in 1852, but would soon abandon his studies to pursue a career as a journalist and writer.

Bjørnson expressed through his writing and poetry a desire to promote Norwegian national identity. 

He expressed that he wished “to create a new saga in the light of the peasant,”, which he thought should be done, not merely in prose fiction, but in national dramas.

This focus led him to become one of the proponents of the 17. May celebration of Norway’s independence day after Henrik Wergeland. It was on Bjørnson’s initiative that the first children’s march came into being in 1870.

Over the course of his career, Bjørnson wrote a wide range of novels and dramas. He is considered to be one of the four great Norwegian writers, alongside Ibsen, Lie, and Kielland He is also celebrated for his lyrics to the Norwegian national anthem. 

Kirsten Flagstad

Kirsten Flagstad was a Norwegian opera singer most famous for her performances as a Wagnerian soprano. 

She ranks among the greatest singers of the 20th century, and many opera critics called hers “the voice of the century.”

When performing in Norway, she was noticed by Otto Hermann Kahn, then chairman of the board of the Metropolitan Opera in New York (the met), on a trip to Scandinavia in 1929. 

Eventually, she signed with the company and became a pupil of vocal coach Hermann Weigert, who prepared her for all her roles with the company. 

Her debut at the Met, as Sieglinde in Die Walküre on the afternoon of 2 February 1935, created a sensation. 

Though it was not planned as a special event, her performance launched her career as the pre-eminent Wagnerian soprano almost overnight.

She experiences a setback in her career during and after the war, as she decided to leave the US for Naxi-occupied Norway in 1941. 

In addition, her husband was arrested after the war and accused of profiteering during the occupation through his lumber business. 

Despite some criticism, she would make a comeback after the war and would eventually return to the met. 

Despite the great fanfare surrounding her return, she felt that she did not have the stamina to endure the long and physically demanding roles night after night. 

She gave her farewell operatic performance at the Met on 1 April 1952, and Her last operatic appearance in Oslo on June 5, 1953.

Ole Bull

Ole Bull was a Norwegian-born Violinist and composer who is regarded as one of the greatest violinists of all time. 

Born in bergen in 1810 as the eldest of 10 children, Bull gained an interest in music from a young age. 

At the age of four or five, he could play all of the songs he had heard his mother play on the violin.

Despite his father wanting him to become a minister, Bull wanted to pursue a career in music to much success. 

At age nine, he played the first violin in the orchestra of Bergen’s theatre and was a soloist with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.

He later traveled to Oslo where he would become the director of the Musical Lyceum and the Theater Orchestra in 1828. 

Later Bull would go on to travel Europe, holding several concerts which earned him a huge fortune.

In the 1860s and 1870s, Bull went on several tours across the U.S., often accompanied by soprano Varian Hoffman, baritone Ignatz Pollak, and pianist Edward Hoffman.

Throughout his career, Bull was regarded as one of the greatest violinists of his time. As attested by Robert Schumann, one of the greatest composers of the romantic era who described Bull as “the greatest of all,”.


Edvard Munch – Wikipedia

Christian Krogh – Wikipedia

Theodor Severin Kittelsen – Prabook

Sigrid Undset – Wikipedia

Kirsten Flagstad – Wikipedia

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Erik is the creator and editor of Planet Norway. Born in Trondheim and currently living in Oslo, Erik knows the ins and outs of Norwegian History, society, and culture. His idea for starting planet Norway came about when helping his foreign fiance to settle in Norway.