Eilif Peterssen was one of six painters who spent the summer of 1886 on Fleskum Farm in Bærum outside of Kristiania; the other five were Christian Skredsvig, Gerhard Munthe, Erik Werenskiold, Kitty Kielland, and Harriet Backer. Inspired by the bright evenings of the Norwegian summer, they created a number of atmospheric landscape paintings. This was the dawn of neo-romanticism, which would prove to be one of the main strands of Norwegian art until the turn of the century.
Peterssen’s most significant contribution is Summer Night, a lyrical depiction of a local lake, Dæhlivannet, in soft lighting. The surface of the lake is entirely serene, reflecting a pale, waxing moon and a few clouds that are red in the night sky. The artist has depicted the scene so close up that the tree trunk in the foreground almost seems tangible. To the left lies the uprooted trunk of a birch, which adds perspective to the picture; the composition is otherwise balanced and the colours are subdued.
The following year Peterssen painted a near identical version, entitled Nocturne, in which a female nude in the guise of a nymph leant forward toward the tree trunk in the foreground. The depiction harkens back to his years at the academy, but might also have been inspired by French painting.
The atmospheric neo-romantic paintings form a contrast to the bright, impartially observational plein-air paintings that were otherwise so typical of this era, as represented by for example Erik Werenskiold and Gerhard Munthe. Kitty Kielland’s Summer Night is akin to Peterssen’s depiction of the same scene, but shows a larger portion of Dæhlivannet.
Text: Marianne Yvenes
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0