The city is a central theme in modern art. This painting, however, has a slightly different take on the matter. The city is here not a social venue or a concrete example of urban modernity, but assumes instead a symbolic form: a petrified, extensive horizon tuned beneath the cool, nocturnal moonlight.
Olav Strømme’s visionary, suggestive pictures from the mid-1930s represent one of the most distinctive oeuvres in twentieth-century Norwegian art. Strømme created emblematic, near abstract paintings that emphasized rough, plastic surfaces, striking totalities, and a severely restricted palette. The mood is frequently bleak and melancholy, linked to themes such as death and decay. The use of plastic materials with inlaid bits of glass, scratches, and other elements provides a textured, wall-like effect. The row of houses seems almost to have been carved into molten lava.
While at the National Academy of Fine Arts, Strømme belonged to a group of students who opposed the art establishment. They were interested in other aspects of modern art than their teachers, and they appropriated elements from surrealism and German expressionism. Strømme developed his own idiosyncratic motifs and a straightforward, intuitive approach. His pictures received little recognition among contemporaries, but were later hailed as principal works from the era, in particular after he made a comeback as an artist during the 1960s.
Strømme made several versions of this motif, including a larger picture that is part of Rolf E. Stenersen’s collection.
Text: Øystein Ustvedt
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0