Category Archives: Artists

Swan Maidens at Oslo City Hall

I was just planning on a quick walk-through of the building, which honestly is not to my taste. But the courtyard has sixteen large wood reliefs, each about eight feet tall, by Dagfinn Werenskiold. They portray Norse myths from the 13th century. He had me at the Swan Maidens. Legend has it that three Valkyries appeared on a beach one day in the form of swans. They turned into beautiful women, married three brothers who happened along and couldn’t believe their good fortune, and stayed fourteen years. Then they flew away. I don’t know the end of the story, but the Valkyries are beings that fly over battlefields, deciding who will live and who will die. Did the brothers later fight in battle and get saved? Or had they maybe left the toilet seat up one time too many? The answers are lost in the mists of time.

The Oslo City Hall replaced a slum in the middle of the city, directly on the Oslo Fjord. The exterior style is listed as “Functionalism,” which sums it up. The architects were Arnstein Arbeberg and Magnus Poulsson. It was partially built by 1939, but then World War II intervened and it was finally completed in 1950. The spectacular interior more than makes up for the so-so exterior.

Inside, the grand rooms were decorated by the finest Norwegian artists, chosen by competition. The details above are from Henrik Sorenson’s huge mural “The Nation at Work and Play.”

It dominates the Main Hall, where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded every year.

The rear wall features a mural by Alf Rolfson.

I like the “smaller” rooms even better. The Festival Gallery has windows looking out over the fjord, and a beamed and painted ceiling. Of course there are Viking motifs, like this creature inset in the marble floor.

Axel Revold covered the end wall with a mural depicting the long, narrow country of Norway from north to south.

Aage Storstein, a young up-and-coming artist, painted the West Gallery with images of freedom and democracy. I don’t really understand the history or the politics, but a captive princess and a bear depict the centuries that Norway was in union with Denmark (not exactly willingly, it seems).

My favorite room is a smallish one, the East Gallery. Per Krogh considered it his masterpiece.

The beehive represents city life and the rosebush country life.

He painted an uprooted tree as a rose window.

So much for a quick walk-by of a boring city building. I wandered in the Oslo City Hall for a long time. Outside, I admired Dagfinn Werenskiold’s wooden carvings again. How about Odin on his eight-legged horse Sleipner?

Or ponder “Embla,” an elm tree turned into the first human woman in a Nordic creation story.

Her partner was Ask, a man created from an ash tree.

I was so inspired by Norse mythology that when I recently had an art-class assignment to do a painting that tells a story, I tried my own Swan Maidens. They’re creepily faceless right now while I work out how to do noses and eyes and chins and mouths. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy my Nordic memories.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Happy and Hopeful 2018 to All

Carefree children dancing: a nice image for the New Year.

These large relief panels by Luca della Robbia were commissioned in 1431 for the organ loft in Florence’s Cathedral.

I’d never get near the organ loft, so I’m glad somebody made the decision to install them in the newly-renovated Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, just across the street.

There are ten of them, with the overall title “Cantoria.” They’re designed to reflect the joy of music, and they make me think of the joy of new beginnings.

In our world, of course, being a child is not all sweetness and light. It never was.

I loved this very large painting by the French artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, 1880. He was not as well known as other French painters, but he was a leader in the developing Naturalist school, where the point was to see the world as it really was. He influenced later painters like Claude Monet. This painting is in the wonderful French collection in Copenhagen’s Glyptotec.

The title is “The Beggar.” In it, an elderly beggar dressed in rags turns away from a doorway. Did he receive something in his bag? Maybe, but nothing that would change his life. The woman in the background is already occupied with something else, finished with the encounter one way or the other. But the little girl in the blue dress would like to do more for him. Her face registers shock and profound sorrow and reluctance to see the old man leave. She hasn’t yet learned any of the rationalizations adults use when we turn away from someone else’s suffering.

I hang out with kids every chance I get. I love their energy and open minds. I don’t want them sitting quietly in rows–I want them up and moving and laughing.

I’m often “the teacher” and therefore the one presumably imparting wisdom. But children are the ones with wisdom. Kids are the true Superheroes who ALWAYS come out in favor of honesty, fairness, generosity, and including everybody. And they always manage to create their own fun, no matter how intent the adults are on a serious lesson. They’re our future.

I think a good beginning for 2018 would be to talk to our children about what they’d like for our world, and then follow their lead. What if we put them in charge for awhile? Happy and hopeful New Year!

Child Portraits in Copenhagen

I love portraits of children. One of my favorites was in an exhibit in Frederiksborg Castle outside Copenhagen. A child with a chicken: “Noa,” 2012. She’s the daughter of the Danish artist Dennis Mogelgaard. The chicken looks a lot more confident and happy about posing than the child does. I’m thinking that as far as the child was concerned, the chicken was a non-negotiable part of the deal with her dad.

C. W. Eckersberg painted his daughter, Emilie, shortly after the death of her mother. She’s in black, but there are no other reminders of grief. Her rosy cheeks and brave smile are an affirmation of ongoing life, but I wouldn’t know that without the museum’s commentary. In this portrait, I can see echoes of my Scandinavian ancestors who made their way to Minnesota: face adversity with a smile, and don’t let anyone know what is really going on inside you. (This is both the good part and the bad part of a Midwestern Scandinavian upbringing).

In Rosenborg Castle, I liked a series of portraits of the young prince who grew up to be King Frederik VII.

I privately liked him much better as a child than as an imposing king.

His famous ancestor, King Christian IV, is featured in a delightfully sober childhood portrait in the castle. (Christian deserves at least one post all his own).

This portrait, in Frederiksborg Castle, shows three royal children in exile in Germany, in 1526. They were the children of King Christian II, exiled mainly because their parents were followers of the upstart Martin Luther. Their mother died in exile. The artist, Jan Mabuse Gossaert, was probably commissioned to paint the children to show that they were still promising marriage material for European royal houses elsewhere. Aside from being royal pawns, these were real children with real names: Christine, Dorothea, and Hans.

Jens Juhl painted “A Running Boy” in 1802. He looks wistful, not really intent on getting anywhere. He’s caught in action at the Danish National Gallery, frozen in time.

Paul Gaugin, “Two Children, 1889, in the Glyptotek. (All of the photos in this post are mine, taken of the paintings in close-up. They don’t really do the paintings justice, but at least they remind me of what I found compelling).

This is an early portrait by Claude Monet, “The Artist’s Son,” 1868, in the Glyptotek.

Christen Dalsgaard, 1870, “A Convalescent,” in the Glyptotek. I think the blossoms she is holding have a sad connotation, especially the one that’s fallen from her hand. Children very often died from common childhood illnesses–and still do, when they live in poverty anywhere in the world.

A happier image is this painting by Peter Hansen, “Playing Children, Enghave Square,” 1908, in the National Gallery.

The joyful faces remind me that as much as I love art, it’s time to get outside into the streets and squares of beautiful Copenhagen.

Children are playing out there! And because they’re fortunate enough to live in beautiful Copenhagen, they’re surrounded by art.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Jimmy Reagan’s “Outsider” Art

Jimmy Reagan is a Minnesota artist in his twenties. At age 2, he was diagnosed with a complex form of autism. In his teens, he began working as a serious painter, and he’s had a lot of success. Above is a self-portrait. I saw his work in a recent exhibit in St. Paul.

Above is another self portrait: “Jimmy Painting Pretty Girl in Orange Dress and Pearls.”

He does a lot of portraits. Above is his mom.

Apparently Jimmy has done some traveling. Above is a portrait of a “Girl from Italy.” He often paints his backgrounds and sometimes his frames with what he calls “ticks”–bright splashes of brilliant color.

Jimmy lists his artistic influences as Picasso and Van Gogh. I can see the influences, but to me Jimmy seems totally original.

This is “The Emperor.” Looks pretty self-important, don’t you think?

I like his “Golden Hair Man.”

I’m an aspiring painter myself, and I know what a challenge it is to develop a distinctive style. It really takes a distinctive way of looking at the world.

My painting teacher recommended the book pictured above, “The Innocent Eye” by Jonathan Fineberg. I highly recommend it. Many artists we think of as “modern,” like Picasso, Klee and Kandinsky, were fascinated by children’s art. They actually collected and studied it, and even collaborated with children.

Picasso famously commented that all children are artists. He said that when he was age four, he could draw like Raphael–very probably true. But he said that it took him a lifetime to be able to draw “like a child.”

I especially like Jimmy Reagan’s animal portraits. Above is “Blue Sheep,” acrylic on foam carving.

Here is “Cow, Pig and Rooster.” Jimmy has sold a lot of prints of many of these pieces. I can see why.

“Just Cow” may be just a cow, but what personality. She’s acrylic on carved foam.

Elizabeth” is another cow, an especially joyful one.

My very favorite animal of Jimmy’s is “Dirty Happy Pig.”

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful there are “outsider” artists, and people who nurture and encourage them. I’m also thankful to be setting off on a trip, hoping to see lots of art. I’ll take Jimmy’s unique way of seeing the world with me.

Note on December 5, 2017:  Jimmy’s mother very kindly commented: “If you or your readers are interested, we are hosting a sale/exhibition on December 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th in Jimmy’s space at Sunfish Cellars in Lilydale, MN – We will have artwork and Jimmy’s merchandise available for sale. It is family friendly. All are welcome.”   I’ll be there!

Jimmy’s website is

Paul Klee’s Cats, and Mine

If I could choose one artist to invite over for dinner, it might be the Swiss painter and multimedia artist Paul Klee. He lived from 1879 to 1940. I’d have him bring along one of his favorite cats, maybe Fritzi. Paul Klee loved cats. He painted “Idol for House Cats” in 1924, shortly before Fritzi died.

It’s a watercolor, unusually done on primed canvas instead of the traditional paper. He made it multi-media by pasting on a black lace veil, maybe as a sign of mourning after Fritzi died. The cat looks inscrutable, a little intimidating, yet he has a sweet heart-shaped mouth. Cats are thought to be aloof, but try telling that to anyone who loves them.

“We are mourning him as if he were our child and best friend,” Klee wrote.

I saw quite a few Klee paintings recently at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.

I loved “Tomcat’s Hunting Ground” too, from Klee in 1919. I think it was on loan from the Albertina in Vienna. I love the childlike joy in so much of Klee’s work.

Back in my home state of Minnesota for a fall visit, I saw an exhibit by a young artist who reminds me of Klee. Jimmy Reagan is a young autistic man in his twenties.

He’s been painting seriously for about ten years. I loved his cat, titled “Barbara.”

I loved his “Orange Lion” too. He carves some of his images into sheets of foam, then paints them. I think he’s wonderful. I’ll devote another post to Jimmy’s other work.

Then there are the ceramic cats one of my grandchildren made recently. This cat knows exactly how beautiful and amazing she is.

This one is a jar that holds things, maybe cat treats.

And last but not least, there are the gorgeous, brilliant, not-at-all-aloof actual cats that share my house with me. I’m inspired to try painting their portraits. We’ll see how that goes!

Three Witches for Halloween

Henry Fuseli, a Swiss artist, painted “The Three Witches” from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” in 1782. They look surprisingly modern to me. They look like they know unspeakable things, and their mouths are set as though they’re not about to tell all they know. I always think of Shakespeare’s three “weird sisters” as sort of endearingly eccentric mumblers, but these three look like they mean business. 

In theater circles, this play is usually called “the Scottish play.” There’s a superstition that saying the actual title inside a theater, except as necessary in performance of the play, invokes a curse. Terrible things will happen.

The painting is in the European collection at the Huntington Museum and Gardens in Pasadena. I think it’s pretty scary, especially after reading that since the play was written, many people have believed that it incorporates actual supernatural incantations used by actual witches. Speaking the words out loud is said to invoke real spells and curses. (Cue thunder and lightning).

The inscription on the frame is in Greek. It’s a quotation from the ancient playwright Aeschylus: “Not women, but Gorgons I call them.”

Who are Gorgons? They are Medusa and her sisters, monsters whose glance turns men to stone. The Medusa painting above is by Caravaggio, around 1593-1610. It’s in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. (The image is in the public domain). OK, if I suddenly had snakes instead of hair, I’d scare myself to death before I turned anybody to stone. Just saying. 

No doubt there are many other images of Shakespeare’s witches. I’ll close with one painted by an American artist, William Rimmer, in 1850. The weird sisters here have called up some kind of apparition.

I expect to see all kinds of apparitions (wanting candy) on Halloween. Me? I was Cleopatra for this year’s youth group Halloween party. (I could have carried some kind of snake, come to think of it).

But it’s chilly out. For the Halloween Stroll tonight in my small town, when traffic is blocked on the main drag and everybody turns out in costume, I might go with an older outfit: Crazy Cat Lady. Some people would say it’s not a costume: it’s what I really am. Anyway, it features a comfy chenille bathrobe. Happy Halloween!

A Bad Day for Santa Croce

A Spanish tourist was just killed by a falling stone fragment inside Florence’s Santa Croce Basilica. How could this happen?

Santa Croce is one of the major sights in Florence. The interior is warmly lit and surprisingly peaceful, considering the number of visitors.

People pause to pay their respects at the tombs of the great and good:





Rossini, and many others I feel like I should know.

Santa Croce is said to be the largest Franciscan church in the world, with beautiful Giotto frescoes honoring the humble monk from Assisi. 

St. Francis is believed to have actually founded this church. 

And now, it’s closed while the authorities investigate why an unsuspecting tourist was killed by a chunk of falling stone.

No tourists will be gazing up at the beautiful ceilings for awhile. The faithful will have to light their candles and murmur their prayers elsewhere in the city.

Italy has artistic treasures everywhere, but it seems there is never enough money to properly take care of them, or to accommodate the number of visitors lining up to see them. 

In 1966, the Arno River overflowed its banks, flooding much of Florence. Damage to Santa Croce took years and years to repair. There are still high water marks in the building, and some of the artworks can’t be completely restored. I hope Santa Croce can be made safe again.

No doubt lots of ink will be used as the investigation goes forward. One article about it is at: