Harald Sohlberg the man who loved trees

Dulwich Picture Gallery: Harald Sohlberg the man who loved trees

Painting by Harald Sohlberg: The country road

Over the course of his career, the Norwegian artist Harald Sohlberg used different media and techniques. But there is one constant theme: his fascination with trees. They appear throughout his work – as a frame, a forest or a dominant single figure in the landscape.

Born in 1869, Sohlberg always denied the influence of other artists. And there is something unmistakably Nordic in his use of colour to reveal the character of the landscapes he so obviously loved.

The exhibition of over 90 works is arranged chronologically to show how his interests and technique developed. Early works such as “Summer Night” and “Sungleam” reveal his passion for landscape, light and colour.

In many paintings he manages to recreate the Norwegian dusk and capture the sense of a place which is beautiful but also unforgiving and inhospitable. There are few people in his paintings, but he is very interested in the impact of humans on the environment. The timeless scene in “The Country Road” for example, is almost rudely interrupted by a series of telegraph poles.

Sohlberg spent time in the small mining town of Røros, high up in the mountain plains of central Norway. He produced a series of paintings – wonderfully rendered, but very bleak. This is a harsh place, not one that you are tempted to visit.

His later works focus less on representational detail and more on mood and character. “Midsummer Night, Nordic Theme” is a restful but forbidding glimpse of the land and sea at dusk, and a personal favourite.

The exhibition ends with a series entitled “Winter Night in the Mountains”, the largest of which is apparently Norway’s favourite painting. It looks rather too much like an illustration for a fairy tale for my taste, but it is a monumental piece.

This is an interesting and enjoyable show and a chance to see the work of a celebrated but rarely seen artist

Until 2 June in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD, Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am – 5pm. Call 020 8693 5254 or visit dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.