Inventory Number: KOL006
Size: 82.50h x 42w in
Material: Sculpted and Painted Wood
Country of Origin: Norway
Year Made: c.1908-09
Corner cupboard created by Norwegian artist Lars Kinsarvik in the Viking Revival or “Dragon” style. Kinsarvik drew his inspiration from traditional architecture and objects and became one of the champions of Scandinavian wood-craft. This painted cupboard, skillful covered in intertwining knots, is inspired by a Norwegian folk tale.
Norwegian artist Lars Kinsarvik is best known for his exuberantly carved and colorfully painted furniture in Viking Revival or Dragon Style (dragenstilen) that were exhibited and sold internationally by the turn of the century.[i] Born in the town of Kinsarvik, in 1846 to a carpenter and rosemåler--a decorative painter of colorful, floral folk motifs--Kinsarvik began his career by following his father’s profession, but public taste began turning against vibrant folk colors in favor of a muted palette inspired by historic stave churches and carved wooden furniture.[ii] Advocates for this medieval aesthetic wished to replace contemporary decorations, which were shared across Scandinavia, with a specifically Norwegian style based on the glorious age of the Vikings. Having been dominated for centuries by Denmark and Sweden, Norwegians chafed against foreign rule. By aesthetically appropriating a powerful Viking legacy, they asserted cultural distinctiveness alongside the quest for the political independence they finally achieved in 1905.[iii]
In 1864 Kinsarvik went south to Stavagner to learn the more fashionably historic art of faux graining or eikemaling (literally: oak painting), which failed to satiate his artistic appetite. He spent the next few years studying with landscape painter Anders Askevold and--although he remained a hobbyist painter--he pivoted professionally to woodcarving, an art that he found to be both compelling and marketable.[iv] Through carving, Kinsarvik devoted himself to the study of historic decoration and to developing the national style. He had access to artifacts at the Kunstindustrimuseet in Oslo and to publications such as The Norwegian Art of Woodcarving, 1878, by leading Dragon Style proponent and art historian Lorentz Dietrichson. He also looked to the medieval churches, whose gargoyles may have provided additional inspiration for his carved grotesques.[v]
Norway’s presence in the World’s Fairs of the period, as well as the cultivation of domestic tourism, helped to imprint the Dragon Style upon an international audience and to create demand for authentic souvenirs. Archaeological recoveries of Viking vessels in Tune (1867) and Gökstad (1888) further stirred imagination. Hotels in the Dragon Style were built along the scenic fjords to provide unique Norwegian excursions for international tourists.[vi] All of this stimulated Kinsarvik’s business, and, by 1874 he was producing enough carved items to make a steady living. His success garnered him a teaching position in the 1880s with a woodcarving school supported by the Kunstindustrimuseet, which included an annual stipend from the State.[vii]
Kinsarvik’s career finally took off around the turn of the century and he was awarded major interior commissions, including the dining room for the Hotel Hardanger in the city of Odda in 1896. Deeply encouraged by art historian Andreas Aubert, who argued that the stave churches and medieval wooden furnishings had been painted and that their pigments had faded, Kinsarvik began once employing the vibrant folk colors that had fallen out of favor in his carved work.[viii] In 1905, he went to Ørsta to lecture and run the carving workshop at the Møre Folkehøgskule. In 1908 he moved to Volda, where for the first time, he set up a workshop on his own property, which he named Solvang.[ix]
The corner cabinet is especially important as an example of Kinsarvik’s mature style and for the documentation that sheds light on the artist’s sources and inspiration for the piece. Writing on May 3, 1909 to Harald Lange, who eventually purchased the cabinet, Kinsarvik described his sources of inspiration, his thoughts on the Viking Revival, and the rejection of color in Norwegian decoration.[x] He noted the Vikings accomplished “something other than war and pillaging,” when they transported the Irish and Anglo-Saxon arts, which the “people of the North,” through their “divine capability,” transformed into something genuinely recognizable as their own.
Describing his art as a “Norwegian renaissance” of old forms with ornamentation dating to the early Iron Age and the period of the Vikings Kinsarvik commented extensively on the legend that inspired him to craft this cabinet:
There was once a vicarage surrounded by cherry trees, which employed a good farm hand named Rolf. The boy fell for the daughter of a farmer on the other side of the fjord, and the vicar went to the parents to speak on Rolf’s behalf. As part of his testimony, the vicar declared Rolf to be such a good man that he could not refuse him his own daughter Brynhilde’s hand in marriage. The family across the fjord was unconvinced, and Rolf married the vicar’s daughter. It turned out that Rolf came from a good family, and his father (Ørnulf of Østbygdene in the Eastern parishes) sent the young couple a dowry. It included a wall-hung corner cabinet that survived the centuries, albeit blackened and smoky in an outbuilding.
The story of this wedding cupboard formed the basis for Kinsarvik’s design and the fanciful folk figures adorning the upper and lower escutcheons were likely a tribute to Brynhilde and Rolf. While the artist did not identify a source for the bats in the upper part of the cabinet, these abounded on historic structures like the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, and Kinsarvik’s contemporaries—woodcarver Ole Moene and silversmith Henrik Møller—appropriated and adapted the creatures in their work.[xi]
Lange, in whose family the cabinet descended until 1993, was a merchandise broker living in Portland, Oregon.[xii] Twenty years younger than Kinsarvik, he was born in Stavanger, Norway and trained as a trader. His Norwegian employers included the prestigious glass retailer Christiania Glasmagasin for which he served as company representative at The Nordic Exhibition of Industry, Agriculture, and Art, held in Copenhagen in 1888. He also worked as an agent for the ceramics manufacturer Egersund Fayancefabrik (1847–1979) before establishing his own trading business in 1893.[xiii] In 1902, he immigrated to the United States with his wife Agnes Margrethe and young daughters Ruth and Eva.[xiv] The family lived briefly in North Dakota before settling in Portland where Harald Lange founded and edited a weekly Norwegian Language Newspaper Pacific Skandinaven and ran an importing business.[xv]
At the time this cabinet was made, Kinsarvik was at the apex of his career and also nearing the end. He completed thirteen church interiors between 1908 and 1915, and maintained a large workforce at Solvang, which included several of his own children. A progressive eye condition, which had been managed for years, finally overtook him and by 1917 he was functionally blind. Kinsarvik retired to his birthplace, where he died in 1925.
[i] The author thanks Trond L. Schøning and David Werner for generously sharing their knowledge of and enthusiasm for Norwegian decorative arts. Kinsarvik’s biography from Ingri Skou, To Norske Treskjærere: Ole Moene Og Lars Kinsarvik, (Oslo: C. Huitefeldt Forlag, 1991), 36–48.
[ii] Skou, To Norske Treskjærere, 39.
[iii] Albert Steen, “Tradition and Revival: The Past in Norway’s National Consciousness,” in Marion J. Nelson, Norwegian Folk Art: The Migration of a Tradition (New York: Abbeville Press, 1996), 249–51.
[iv] Skou, To Norske Treskjærere, 41.
[v] Ibid, 42-43. The Kunstindustrimuseet promoted woodcarving and made collections available to artists like Kinsarvik.
[vi] Steen, “Tradition and Revival,” 250 – 51.
[vii] Skou, To Norske Treskjærere, 42–43. Kinsarvik received 500 Kroner annually for his role as an instructor.
[viii] Skou, To Norske Treskjærere, 44. Aubert’s lecture was entitled, “Norsk Fargesans, Norsk Fargegleda” (Norwegian Color Perception, Norwegian Color Joy).
[ix] Skou, To Norske Treskjærere, 49. Beginning in 1899, Kinsarvik’s contributions to the nation were rewarded by a state pension of 1000 Kroner annually. It was later raised to 1200. His widow, continued to receive support payments after Kinsarvik’s death.
[x] Letter, Lars Kinsarvik to Harald Lange, May 3, 1909, Jason Jacques Gallery. Unless otherwise indicated, quoted text pertaining to this cabinet comes from this letter. The author extends deepest thanks to Trond L. Schøning for his translation and contextualization.
[xi] Trond L. Schøning and David Werner, in correspondence with the author.
[xii] Lange lists his occupation as “manufacture agent” or “merchandise broker.” Harald Lange, Petition for Naturalization, U.S. Department of Labor, Nov. 13, 1924; and Declaration of Intention, April 16, 1925. An advertisement from 1920 lists his business as “Harald Lange, Norwegian Importing Co., 411 Worcester Bldg., Portland, Ore.” Advertisement in Mazama: A Record of Mountaineering in the Pacific Northwest VI:1, (Dec. 1920).
[xiii] 161.8, The Lange Family from Norway, 1888. Translated and submitted by Gus Marsh for the USGenWeb Archives Special Collections Project.
[xiv] Harald Lange’s wife was Agnes Margrethe Bjerkhoel Lange (1874-?). The couple’s daughters were Ruth (1898–1993) and Eva (1901–?). Agnes Lange, United States Petition for Citizenship, Form 2204-L-A. U.S. Department of Labor, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Filed, Portland, Oregon, November 20, 1934.
[xv] In 1904 Lange co-founded the paper as editor with L. Christensen as manager. It was later sold and became the political news magazine for the state. Johs. B. Wist, Norks-amerikanernes Festskrift, (Decorah, Iowa: The Symra Co., 1914), 153. Janet Lynn Baisinger, “Nordic Immigrants in Portland, 1870–1920: the first fifty years” (1981), Portland State University.
The Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA