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Frida Hansen

An international Art Nouveau artist from Stavanger

01. Nov 2019 - 01. Mar 2020

Frida Hansen (1855–1931), one of Norway’s foremost textile artists, had a significant international career. She was born into a wealthy family in Stavanger and received lessons in drawing and painting from artists such as Kitty Kielland, Elisabeth Sinding and Johan J. Bennetter. After the family’s bankruptcy in 1883, she began weaving and learned to use a vertical loom. Through visiting farms in Jæren and Ryfylke, she learned to dye yarn using plant-based dyes. Her interest in weaving was related to a revitalisation of the Norwegian weaving tradition. Like many of her contemporaries, she was strongly inspired by Norwegian åklær (wall weavings) from the medieval and baroque periods. Over time she allowed herself to be influenced by artistic impulses from Europe. Today she is considered one of Norway’s central Art Nouveau artists.

The tapestries in this room are in Stavanger Art Museum’s collection, either as deposits or purchases. They represent different periods in Frida Hansen’s career, with The Danaides’ Barrel (1914) as one of the high points. For this work, she chose a theme from Greek mythology that has a long tradition in art history. Woven into the tapestry are the words ‘Poena Danaidum’, which refers to the punishment Danaus’s daughters suffered for having killed the men they were ordered to marry. The eternal carrying of water to fill a bottomless or leaking container is a central motif in art history, perhaps best known from two paintings (1903 and 1906) by the British artist John William Waterhouse. Hansen had probably seen them. The choice of this motif in 1914 can also be interpreted as a comment on the challenging economic situation at the start of World War I.

One of Hansen’s most important contributions to the international field of weaving was her technique for weaving transparent portières (doorway curtains). In this room we see several good examples. The transparent effect is achieved by using warp treads of wool, which makes it possible to leave open passages in the warp.

One transparent portière is entitled Mermaids, a motif we also see in the tapestry Mermaids Lighting the Moon. Mythical female figures, who form an imaginative connection between people and nature, were popular in the Art Nouveau period. In Hansen’s oeuvre, however, flowers can be said to be the most dominant motifs. She herself was an enthusiastic gardener as a young woman, and her tapestries include many identifiable species.

Frida Hansen’s Semper Vadentes is on loan to Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde in Stockholm, in connection with an exhibition of works by the British artist Edward Burne-Jones. The tapestry can be experienced in Stockholm from 14 September 2019 to 20 January 2020. The exhibition will then travel to KODE, Art Museums and Composer Homes in Bergen, where Semper Vadentes will be on show from 15 February to 31 May 2020. By the summer of 2020 the tapestry will return to Stavanger Art Museum.