Christian Krohg aimed in the 1880s to create provocative art, and with the story of Albertine he succeeded in sparking off a public debate on a hot-button issue. Krohg’s novel Albertine (1886) and painting Albertine to see the Police Surgeon, which were created in parallel, bitterly harangued the authorities’ disregard and double standards when it came to public prostitution in contemporary Kristiania. The novel was seized by the Ministry of Justice, accused of “violating public morals and common decency”. Krohg appealed the decision all way to the Supreme Court, but the ban was upheld.
The painting, completed in February 1887, deals with the compulsory medical exam that prostitutes had to subject themselves to. In the novel, this police-controlled gynaecological examination represents the turning point in Albertine’s life, as she goes from impoverished seamstress to lady of the night. The centrepiece of the painting is one of the city’s prostitutes, who serves as a contrast to the figure of Albertine. Albertine is seen further into the picture, humble and ill at ease, but she will soon lose her shame and become like the others in the waiting room: a fallen woman.
Krohg used the rhetoric of historical paintings, typified by their narrative content, dramaturgical composition, and size. Realists such as Krohg employed such formal strategies in order to bring to light contemporary social issues.
Thousands of interested spectators from all walks of life came to see the painting when it was exhibited in Kristiania in spring 1887.
Text: Vibeke Waallann Hansen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0