In the summer of 2018 Lillehammer Art Museum will mount a major exhibition featuring the “Parisians”: Jean Heiberg, Henrik Sørensen, Per Krohg and Axel Revold. These artists were students of the French painter Henri Matisse (1896-1954) in Paris. The exhibition presents over 100 works that have been borrowed from art institutions all over Scandinavia and from many private collectors.
Henri Matisse is unquestionably regarded as one of the leading painters of the 20th century. For well over three years, starting in the autumn of 1908, Matisse operated an art school in Paris. In the course of those years around 100 artists took part in the classes. Among the students at Académie Matisse were around 15 to 20 Norwegians. The most important of them were Jean Heiberg, Henrik Sørensen, Per Krohg and Axel Revold.
The instruction given by Matisse was on the whole extremely radical, and training was offered in still life, croquis (sketching) and life drawing. Warm and cool colour surfaces, usually strong and non-figurative*, were contrasted with each other and were often framed by a well-defined contour line.
Matisse critiqued his students two to three times a month. They all gathered round and received their “judgement”. Nearly everything was permitted in technical terms, but not all of the students’ ideas enhanced the general impression given by the works. The painterly result was never entirely abstract, but acquired an expressive character that, in the beginning, attracted attention and criticism in equal measure.
At the Annual Autumn Exhibition in Christiania (later Oslo) in 1909, Henrik Sørensen caused a great stir with his expressive painting “Svartbekken”, which would be designated as the world’s first Expressionist painting. This was the origin of the “Matissians”, or “Parisians”, as they were called, and marked the modernist breakthrough in Norway.
Per Krohg lived permanently in Paris, but the other Norwegian artists – Jean Heiberg, Henrik Sørensen and Aksel Revold – returned to Norway in the early 1910s. While Matisse’s Swedish students went home to convey the idea of modern society in the early 20th century, the Norwegian artists painted Norwegian nature in the French manner. Unlike Matisse’s students from other countries, the Norwegians were accepted early on by observers and a small but affluent audience.
When the Great War ended the most prominent of Matisse’s students returned to Paris, where they made a name for themselves in the large Scandinavian community on Montparnasse. The four exhibitors continued to mature, and their painting was no longer influenced directly by the style of the Académie Matisse. All the same, their artistic expression was radical and independent, and was marked by the international trends of the day.