HANS GJESME'S DEPICTIONS OF HOUSES
On the occasion of the Veslemøy Sparre Jensen exhibit of house-motifs from Lærdal in the grand hall at Sogn Art Center, we have delved into the work of Hans Gjesme (1904-1994), to see how he depicted houses in the places he lived throughout a long life. We’ve framed tens of paintings which are now being shown for the first time in the exhibit “Houses of Hans Gjesme” in the two lower exhibition halls. As one examines the portrayals of houses, it quickly becomes apparent that the main motif was the home farm “Uppigarden” at Voll in Lærdal, and particularly the portion of the yard that was his domain: the pensioner’s house, storehouse, wood shed and fruit garden. The earliest depictions of Voll are from 1917, when Hans Gjesme was 13 years old.
If one visits the yard at Uppigarden, it quickly becomes apparent that Hans Gjesme didn’t venture far from the walls of his house before putting down his easel to paint. He painted Lærdal landscapes from the perspectives of the buildings on the property in every direction. His favorite angle was towards Hynjahovden, which “closes” Lærdalen in the east. He often portrays this motif, from the ground level as well as the east-facing room on the second floor of his house. He had installed a north-facing skylight there after returning from his studies in Kristiania and Paris in the mid 1920s. It provided additional daylight from above when he stood and painted the view in front of the window towards the east. In the eastward paintings, a small yellow house on the neighboring property is always included. It’s an important compositional element in the images, and shows how powerful the nature of Lærdal is in comparison to the small people living there.
The houses aren’t always depicted in their entirety, but are often seen at the paintings’ edges, either as markers in the landscape or the reverse - the landscape as a context for the houses. Some of the paintings of the pensioner’s house may be interpreted as “portraits” of the home. In these, the entire house is portrayed from the northeast towards the southwest or the northwest towards the southeast so that the house is seen in “half profile”. Some of them are light and detailed and convey a well cared for home surrounded by abundant floral blooms. Other, later images of his house are more variegated and heavy with symbolism. Those are from the period following 1971, when Gjesme returned from his long hospitalization at Gaustad Mental Hospital. The beautiful and lofty main house, with its two full floors, is also often included in the paintings from Uppigarden. It was moved to Voll in 1900 and was originally built by Hans Lem as the main house at Frønningen in 1745.
On Tynjaåsen at Skigrov, Hans, his father, and likely his brother Olav, built a small, stone cabin on the site of a mountain farm that had once been there. According to those who knew Gjesme, this was his “castle”. In the Gjesme collection we find the little stone house in paintings and etchings alike. Before he was committed to Gaustad, he was at Skigrov as often as possible. He would bring painting supplies and provisions so he could stay for a week at a time. A rifle was also required, as there were bears in the surrounding area. In 1928, a bear had been shot in Tynjadalen.
Hans Gjesme was also interested in houses and architecture in other places he lived and visited. We find depictions of Borgund Stave Church, other farm yards in Lærdal, his father’s home farm in Flåm, what was likely the backyard of the building in Kampen where he rented a room in Kristiania in the early 1920s, the view of the street from Hôtel Isis in Paris’ Latin Quarter in 1925, the view from Mundal Hotel towards the hamlet in Fjærland in 1926, old houses and the church in Røros in 1948, various houses and farms in Eastern Norway, assorted views of Oslo, and of the administration building, management quarters, furnace house, and patient buildings at Gaustad hospital during the period of 1955 to 1971.
Curator: Ingrid Norum, conservator, SFKM
Translation: Solveig Naomi Sæther
Photograph: Hans Gjesme, Uppigarden, Voll, 1920, watercolor, GJS-1409, copyright: BONO.