The Art of Theodor Kittelsen

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

1900 Far, far away Soria Moria Palace shimmered like Gold Theodor Kittelsen

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.


1906 Skogtroll Theodor Kittelsen


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.

1907 The Svælg waterfall

Sometimes he gives nature intelligence, or gives concepts a physical presence.


1888 Ekko

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

1900 Svartedauen published

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.

1904 She covers the whole country Theodor Kittelsen

Kittelsen represented Plague as a decrepid old woman, roaming from village to village.



Theodor Kittelsen and Folklore

1911 trollet-som-satt-og-grunnet-pacc8a-hvor-gammelt-det-er Theodor Kittelsen

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.


1887 Sjøtrollet

Here are two different versions of a sea-troll Kittelsen painted.

He often revisited his paintings.


1887 Illustration for Troldskab

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.

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Related: The Art of John Barry Ballaran

40 thoughts on “The Art of Theodor Kittelsen

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    1. Thank you for reading 🙂

      I looked up some more pieces by Kamil Vojnar after I read your post, and they are all really cool 😀
      Great recommendation!

    1. Oh, I’m sure they have some cool folklore aswell.
      Also, there is probably some bleedover from both countries.
      I’m from the the western parts of Norway, there’s more culture-bleedover in the east, near the border.

      But the languages are really similar, so I grew up with a lot of Swedish children’s movies, mostly based on books by Astrid Lindgren.

      1. I shall look for Lindgren’s work. A blogging friend in Sweden, Anna, introduced me to the books of Vilhelm Moberg and I could not put them down. There was some family that immigrated about the same time. Some stayed and more returned. I hope one day to visit. Thank you for the recommendation.

          1. I was doing some research and she suggested I read the series. Wonderful! I have journal entries made by an ancestor who immigrated at about the same time as those in his stories and was trying to decide what to do with them??? 🙂

              1. They are in Swedish but have also been translated. I hadn’t thought of that. My first thought was to weave them into a story/novel? 🙂

  1. Wow, this is a fascinating post – so glad Lea re-blogged it or I wouldn’t have found it. I hadn’t heard of him but will definitely look at more of his work.

  2. Thanks for following the Earth Abides/George R. Stewart weblog, Sindrelf. And Lea – do both. Record the history AND write a novel based on it. Each will enrich in a different way.

  3. A pleasure to be introduced to this artist. The quality of dark magic and ghostly images beckons you in is paintings and his world. Thank you so very very much. Cheers Virginia

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