Reidar Aulie’s The Transition was painted in 1939, the year before Norway was invaded by Nazi Germany and drawn into the Second World War, a time when the country was in a state of transition.
The picture’s foreground is dominated by a waiting funeral procession. The carriage carrying the coffin, the horse drawing the carriage, and the men in the procession are all in black. The figures are highly simplified, and only those in the rear have visible facial traits. The road on which they are standing runs diagonally into the picture and is blocked by a red-and-white gate. The railway tracks divide the picture horizontally in two. It is evident that the train has just passed, as the fleeting, white puffs of smoke from the steam locomotive still hover above the landscape. The figures look straight ahead, tentatively, and only the horse turns its head in the direction of the passing train. On the other side of the railway crossing, the landscape lies in horizontal layers, without clear contours. It is as though the artist wants to show that the unknown – that is, death – waits after the crossing. The lower half of the picture is dominated by blacks, whites, greys and certain golden, warmer hues, while the landscape behind the gate is depicted in cooler shades of blue and grey.
Aulie’s pictures often include narrative elements and depict, with humour and sympathy, the place of the common people in society. Aulie himself purportedly experienced a situation similar to the one depicted in The Transition: riding on a train, he looked out the window just as the train passed a railway crossing where a funeral procession waited to pass. From 1958 Aulie served as professor and subsequently rector at the National Academy of Fine Arts in Oslo.
Text: Marianne Yvenes
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0