Theodor Severin Kittelsen (1857-1914) is my all-time favorite painter.
In this article I will show you some of my favorite works by him while attempting to explain how he has influenced my creativity.
Theodor Kittelsen’s Norway
Kittelsen was present in my life since I started school. The image above (Soria Moria Castle, 1900) was used as the cover of Norwegian literature textbooks when I went to school.
This was because the image is based on a classic Norwegian fairytale by the same name. In fact, a lot of Kittelsen’s work was based on stories and fairy tales, as he often was contracted to make book illustrations.
One of the main reasons why I love Kittelsen’s work is his use of thematic contrasts.
He often mixes the beauty of Norwegian nature with the creepy horror of Norwegian folklore.
Sometimes he gives nature intelligence, or gives concepts a physical presence.
The image above is another example of this.
You can faintly see Kittelsen has painted a physical representation of an echo as a giant man hiding in the foggy mountains, yelling back what people are yelling at him.
The Darker Side To Kittelsen’s Artworks
Sometimes the concepts he portrayed were darker..
The Black Death was the first and worst plague of many that ravaged Norway for 300 years from 1348 to around 1650.
This was long before Kittelsen was contracted to illustrate a book about Black Death, but the disease was horrifying and probably a great inspiration for those pieces.
Kittelsen represented Plague as a decrepid old woman, roaming from village to village.
Theodor Kittelsen and Folklore
During his career, Theodor Kittelsen pretty much defined what Norwegians picture when we hear the word “troll”.
No, not the internet-troll. The folklore/mythological/fantasy troll.
Kittelsen’s trolls were ugly, fat and old. They had giant feet, ears and noses. They also have a cow-tail, a detail he took from the Henrik Ibsen poem Per Gynt.
Beyond those details, trolls came in all shapes and sizes. Things modern people would classify as trolls, giants, goblins, orcs and more – are all called trolls in Norwegian folklore. Different strains of the same species, I suppose.
Here are two different versions of a sea-troll Kittelsen painted.
He often revisited his paintings.
Ever since I was a child these paintings have made me think about how the world could hold more than what we can see, just under the surface.
I cannot walk in the mountains without imagining the trolls that live there.
I cannot enter a bog without cringing, thinking about how the tussocks I’m stepping on are probably the soft heads of some creatures below.
And I cannot look at a cloudy sky without thinking about what civilizations could be living on those clouds.
I think that without that, I would probably not be a writer today.
Related: The Art of John Barry Ballaran