A Carpenter’s Workshop was the focal point of a watershed moment in Norwegian art history, in that the painting is often cited as the factor that sparked off the 1881–82 “artist’s strike” that was spearheaded by Frits Thaulow and Christian Krohg. The bone of contention was a demand that artists should be included in the jury of the Christiania Art Society. The society’s board did not give in to the demand, and the jury’s refusal to acquire A Carpenter’s Workshop led to an open conflict. Krohg wrote the following about the case:
“A while later … a relatively young man … came into our studio and said that his name was Wentzel.… He had taken a painting with him that he said had been refused by the Art Society, and he asked whether we thought that that was a shame. Yes, God himself knows that we did. The painting depicted a hunchbacked carpenter in his workshop. Only the shavings on the floor could be faulted; everything else had been executed with the same eye for detail that he has later demonstrated in full. We created quite a ruckus, gathered together a host of artists … and had the painting displayed in Cammermeyer’s window and publicized in the paper.… This is what first gave rise to the opposition against the Art Society that would later become more structured and lead to the Autumn Exhibition.”
The jury’s explanation for rejecting Gustav Wentzel’s painting was that the image was offensive, though the painting’s execution and style were acceptable. The painting was created entirely in line with contemporary standards, but what the society’s members could not countenance was its alleged lack of “nobility, beauty, and idealism”.
Text: Vibeke Waallann Hansen
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0