A tall, lanky male figure sucking on a pipe is depicted in a rough, stylized manner at the very front of the picture. His clothes and robust hands imply that he is a sturdy workman. It is winter, and the figure makes for a towering presence amid the snow-covered barnyard, with the red farm buildings in the background. He seems to be captured in passing, or perhaps he is impatiently waiting for the painter to finish up?
Erling Enger belonged to a group of younger artists who caused a stir in Norwegian art towards the mid-1930s. Using vibrant colours and drastic simplification, they would experiment with new materials and new effects, seeking inspiration from German expressionism and developing styles that were outside the mainstream of Norwegian painting.
In the early 1940s Enger became more interested in narrative paintings, of folk life, and of the nature of Eastern Norway and its open landscapes and dense woodlands. Recurring themes include farm life, family life, and the relationship between urban and rural areas, often formulated with humour and irony. Enger was himself the son of a farmer but chose to follow the calling of an artist rather than family tradition.
It is the Norwegian farmhand we encounter in the picture, but without any heroizing elements, and it is the colours of the Norwegian flag, red, white and blue, that permeate the picture. Although Enger was not an explicitly political artist, the picture’s colour scheme and focus on an everyday hero can readily be seen as a defiant comment to the oppressive conditions of German-occupied Norway.
Text: Øystein Ustvedt
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0