Arts and Gardens

Fridtjof Nansen

Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930) is best known as a polar explorer, but was also a scientist, writer, diplomat and philanthropist. He was internationally renowned for his exploits in Greenland and the Arctic, and in Norway he was so popular that one discussed the "Nansen fever".

Erik Werenskiold: Fridtjof Nansen.
Erik Werenskiold: Fridtjof Nansen.
Morten Heiselberg

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Nansen wrote his doctoral thesis in zoology on the central nervous system, a thesis that is considered to have been ahead of its time. Four days after his disputation in April 1888, he went on his first major expedition to Greenland. The successful crossing of the island on skis attracted enormous attention, and Nansen was hailed as a popular hero.

Nansen's most important single journey was undertaken in the period 1893-96, with a specially designed polar ship called Fram. The ship utilized the newly discovered natural drift of ice to cross the Arctic Ocean, a breakthrough for modern polar research. Back in Norway, Nansen became professor of zoology at the University of Oslo, but gradually transferred his interests to oceanography, and made substantial efforts in marine research. From 1920 Nansen was a member of the Norwegian delegation to the League of Nations, and as High Commissioner he made an enormous contribution to ending famine in the Soviet Union. It is estimated that his fundraising efforts saved six to seven million lives, and he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922.

The charcoal drawing by Werenskiold is quite sketch-like. It shows Nansen's face and lapel, the face detailed, the rest indicated with rapid strokes. Nansen is wearing a shirt and jacket, and has a cap on his head. The long mustaches stand out in the otherwise clean-shaven face. His expression is serious, verging on the gloomy. The eyes look to the left, somewhat unfocused, and the face is turned slightly to the side.

Erik T. Werenskiold (1855-1938) was a painter and illustrator, and from the 1880s onwards one of the leading artists in Norwegian culture. His villa "Gilje" in Lysaker was, along with Nansen’s "Polhøgda", the meeting points for a group of influential intellectuals who became known as the Lysaker circle. Nansen and Werenskiold were the key figures in this environment. They shared an interest in the national. Werenskiold worked for Norwegian characteristics in art and architecture. He illustrated Asbjornsen and Moe's folktales, and is otherwise known for realistically painted folk scenes, as in the Telemark Girls. Moreover, he was an outstanding portrayer. Werenskiold participated in numerous exhibitions in Europe and the USA.