So far 'The Art of...' programmes headed by Andrew Graham Dixon have been interesting and have given us some great views of German, Russian and Spanish art history in short bursts. At the moment it is Scandinavia's turn, and I have a personal interest in this from my Danish background. However my heart sank a bit when I saw from the first programme that Finland was not going to be included and neither would Iceland. I love the Finnish early 20th century landscape artists and I had hoped they would be covered. I know these programmes come in threes and so I guess that is why these particular countries were chosen, I just hope that Dixon will find a moment to explore Finnish art in a separate programme one day.
Anyway, the first programme covered Norway and apart from a contemporary photographer and a brief interlude to look at national romantic painting there was nothing much to be excited about. There was the Gostad viking ship, previously discussed on many a programme on the Vikings, and there was the well-known Edvard Munch's The Scream suggesting his neurotic response to the world. I enjoyed the programme, especially the wooden church with its ancient carvings, but had hoped for something else I think, maybe more about the contemporary as well. It is worth noting as well that although he is interested in visual culture Dixon's programmes ignores textiles which in the more ancient times of the Vikings, would have been a way for them to make representational art alongside wood carvings. It will be interesting to see whether, when he gets to Sweden, he will include something like the Överhogdal Tapestries in his discssion.
The programme on Danish art again took some traditional routes, Hans Christian Andersen's paper cuts - although I hadn't seen the hanged people piece before - Thorvaldsen, Eckersberg and Hammershøi (whose name Dixon pronounced in a very odd way). And I think that extremely belatedly the penny at last dropped for me. In an effort to shape these histories of national art into a way to describe a 'national' expression, the selection of art works shown are just that, selective. The focus is on artists who somehow show a certain national sensitivity and I am not sure that is always the case. In the Danish case he ignored the postwar artist Asger Jorn who was looking internationally at expressionism and helped establish the COBRA group together with artists from Bruxelles and Amsterdam. A counterpoint to the national romantic image of a Danish female warrior from Denmark's 19th century national romantic era is a great painting by J F Willumsen, En Bjergbestigerske (A Mountain Climber (female)) from 1904, which shows a proud Valkyrie of a woman who is free of corsets and is letting her hair down, a modern self-contained woman for the 20th century. In fact ignoring Willumsen and the Skagen painters (a group of artists working on impressionist and social realist art) suggests that there might be merit in balancing the discource of national sensitivities with a study of those artists who sought international streams either for the sake of widening the perspective of art (Jorn) or to use in a local context for personal uses (Skagen painters).