What in fact is a landscape? What criteria does a portion of the earth's surface have to meet in order to be perceived as a landscape, and does landscape actually exist, other than as an idea in the mind of the beholder? What is it that creates our need to represent landscape in art, and what happens to it when it is depicted? These are some of the questions that can arise as we look more closely at the shifting manifestations of nineteenth-century Nordic landscape painting.

As this exhibition makes clear, Nordic landscape art is no uniform phenomenon, despite the close historical and linguistic ties between the countries. In the course of the nineteenth century it evolved and changed, under the influence of broader European trends in art, the individual countries' own traditions and, not least, the topographical differences between them.

To capture the decisive stages in this process of evolution, the works on display have been grouped under the following five thematic headings: Nordic Sublime, Close to Nature, In the Open Air, Evocative Landscape, Landscapes of the Mind.

The exhibition thus takes us on a journey from the point, just before mid-century, when the Nordic wilderness became a crucial national symbol, via Realism, with its veneration of faithfulness to reality, to the highly personal, mood-evoking landscapes of the turn of the century.

The reasons for the Nordic nations' strong feeling for nature are primarily to be found in the region's geographical situation and sparse population. Here, nature has always tangibly dictated the terms of human existence and created an inescapable dependence on the surrounding environment.

In the national rhetoric of the nineteenth century, the stern ruggedness of Nordic nature, the cold climate and the dearth of material comforts were also linked to moral qualities. Behind the idea that the climatic rigours of the North had a hardening and invigorating effect on the population, we can sense a need to compensate for the region's lack of relics from classical antiquity, compared with southern Europe's wealth in this regard. The same need was reflected in a widespread craze for Nordic prehistory at this time.

Summer Night, Eilif Peterssen, 1886

Eilif Peterssen
Norwegian, 1852-1928
Summer Night, 1886

Stetind in Fog, Peder Balke , 1864

Peder Balke
Norwegian, 1804-1887
Stetind in Fog, 1864

Open-Air Painter, Carl Larsson, 1886

Carl Larsson
Swedish, 1853-1919
Open-Air Painter, 1886

The Cloud  , Prince Eugen, 1896

Prince Eugen
Swedish, 1865-1947
The Cloud , 1896

Lake Keitele, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, 1905

Akseli Gallen-Kallela
Finnish, 1865-1931
Lake Keitele, 1905

Flower Meadow in the North, Harald Sohlberg , 1905

Harald Sohlberg
Norwegian, 1869-1935
Flower Meadow in the North, 1905

Moonlight, Edvard Munch, 1895

Edvard Munch
Norwegian, 1863-1944
Moonlight, 1895