Do you remember how angry people were?
Not more than half a year has passed. Suddenly it became known that the National Museum had removed Christian Kroheg’s “Leif Erikson Discovers America”, a remarkable portrait of brave men on a voyage of discovery.
At the same time, department director Stina Hojqvist said the goal is to showcase more images of women and non-white artists than usual. The discussion immediately grew to hurricane force. Some thought it was time to take a fresh look at the national artistic heritage. Others felt vulnerable to censorship.
This weekend, the National Gallery opened its doors to a major exhibition of Harriet Packer’s work. It seems specifically a move to highlight forgotten female artists.
MThey indicate that they chose the right time. Because there are many museums now also looking for forgotten or half-forgotten women in art history. The talented backer (1845-1932) is exactly what they are looking for. The exhibition at the National Museum will later move to Stockholm and Bergen, and to the palace of French impressionism, the legendary Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
Now Packer has not been hidden or forgotten in the strict sense. She was famous in her time, and was an important figure for the artists who came after her. But the public may not be as fond of it as they are of names like Christian Krug, Nikolai Astrup, or Harald Solberg.
And now the National Museum will give us the same knowledge of Packer. The images she presents to us specifically evoke a feeling of intimacy and familiarity. they Exotic and beautiful, and I think when I look at her, very feminine.
Many paintings depict rooms and interiors. It could almost be said to be the opposite of Leif Erikson’s Krohge image. Vikings exists at sea, where continents are discovered and world history is rewritten. The supporter is located in the halls and in the kitchen. It is where you live daily life. It is a women’s residence.
Especially in the bourgeois family of the nineteenth century, man and woman were seen as fundamentally different, two different beings who should complement each other, and as belonging to completely different places. The man’s place was there, on ships, in government offices, in banks. The woman was at home.
There has been a long struggle throughout art history to gain respect for the fact that this place is also worthy of the artist’s scrutinizing gaze: the family hearth, places of feminine pursuits such as embroidery and piano playing.
It must be said that women were not the only ones responsible for the new, modern look of salons and living rooms. Many Impressionists made their mark precisely by capturing everyday moments in the family or circle of friends.
However, Bakker’s work differs from other pictures from the same period, with similar content. The more you look at them, the more you notice their distance and control.
Yes, it is usually women who populate her paintings. But it’s as if what interests her is not the individuals, but the room itself. Here she differs from Mary Cassatt, who was supposedly her role model.
Cassatt brings the audience closer to what happens in such rooms, allowing us to scrutinize mothers bathing their babies, holding a cup of milk for them.
For his part, Packer keeps this more hidden. We, the viewers, stand at a good distance from these women who sew and play. They often turn their faces away from us. In other places they are anonymous. The paintings are not about them one way or another.
So what does it matter to them? Maybe about the feeling of being in a certain place, in a certain room. By shifting attention away from the women themselves, Packer is able to make viewers feel like they themselves are standing there.
They are the ones who feel the sound of the floorboards under their feet, and see the clear natural light streaming in from the window. It fits well with what we know about Packer’s deep interest in architecture. Perhaps the images are mostly about the feeling of being in the same place as the women. To feel what they are feeling, where they are sitting, deeply immersed in a book or a piece of sewing.
Those who make art from women’s lives are often underestimated. While the man on the voyage of discovery is seen as a universal hero figure, one that everyone should know and admire, the woman in her home is often seen as primarily interesting to other women. The process of appreciating this art is by no means over.
At the same time, it is worth remembering, in our effort to highlight this art, that this is not a zero-sum game.
The new interest in female art should not mean pushing the male aside, simply because it is masculine, or because it is built on a hierarchy where men were at the top.
The woman at the piano and the man on the Viking ship are both fighting their battles. They both deserve to stand for a while in front of their image, and we can, for a brief moment, imagine what it would be like to be where they are now.
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