Gerhard Munthe's Folktale Tapestries: Designing a Norwegian National Narrative in the Nineteenth Century

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Gerhard Munthe's Folktale Tapestries: Designing a Norwegian National Narrative in the Nineteenth Century

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This dissertation contemplates the role of the Norwegian landscape painter and designer Gerhard Munthe (1849-1929) in constructing the Norwegian nation. During the nineteenth century, the production of narratives that trace a progressive trajectory for Norway's history, within historical and decorative arts museums, along with art objects and visual culture, played a major role in constructing, defining, and promoting Norway as an independent, European nation. The Norwegian artist Gerhard Munthe, as a participant in the Paris 1900 World's Fair and through his role as a board member of the Norsk Folkemuseum (Norwegian Folk Museum) and the Kunstindustrimuseet (Museum of Decorative Arts and Design) in Oslo, participated in the nation-building process which effectively manipulated Norway's past as well as criticisms of Norway to construct and promote a modern Norwegian national identity. In their assessments of Munthe's tapestries, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century critics and scholars have noted the national aspects of his designs and some have struggled to note the tapestries place as expressive of national identity, while also noting how they might signal ambivalence towards that identity. The folktales depicted in the tapestries have the potential to negotiate that ambivalence, while also engaging with the larger project to imagine "the people." This larger project includes the efforts of the folklorists Peter Asbjørsen and Jørgen Moe, and philologist Ivar Aasen, who sought to recuperate and document folklore and language. Despite the failings of these projects, they, along with Munthe's tapestries, remain central to the story of Norwegian nationalism. Some contemporary critics seeks to demonstrate Munthe's significance in an art historical context beyond Norway through an investigation of Munthe's work and its engagement with the theories and motifs of the Aesthetic movement, the Arts and Crafts movement, art nouveau, japonisme, and Symbolism. In examining these modern movements and positioning Munthe as engaged with their ideas, it becomes clear that these movements or trends are tied together by certain repetitive narrative threads, including an insistent borrowing and imagining, a focus on craftsmanship, and a repurposing of the historical.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.December 2014. Major: Art History. Advisor: Gabriel Weisberg. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 178 pages.

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Warren, Erica. (2014). Gerhard Munthe's Folktale Tapestries: Designing a Norwegian National Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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