Arts and Gardens

Henrik Wergeland

Inside the HF library there is a sketch of the famous statue of Henrik Wergeland in Studenterlunden in Oslo. The sketch is a small, full figure statue in gilded plaster. It shows Wergeland as the Poet, a monumental construction that we can only glimpse in the limited format of the sketch.

Henrik Wergeland
Brynjulf Bergslien: Utkast til Wergeland-statuen i Studenterlunden, ca. 1880.
Alf E. Andresen

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Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845) was one of the most important poets and cultural personalities in Norway in the early 1800's. He was concerned with the national, and was one of the enthusiasts that began to celebrate the National Day on May 17th. As a language reformer, Wergeland presented a number of proposals to Norwegianization of the Danish language, and laid the ground for the later work of linguist Knud Knudsen. At the same time he eagerly followed world events. In 1839 he sent a proposal to Parliament to repeal the constitutional prohibition against giving Jews access to Norway. Not until six years after his death did the proposal go through. Wergeland believed firmly that man had the potential for development, and that Christianity and freedom were necessary to achieve this.

Bergslien’s Wergeland is posing: The robe hangs nonchalant over his shoulder and arm. In his hand he holds a small book. The statue in Studenterlunden holds a pen in his other hand, but we do not see it in the sketch. The feet are small and delicate, one foot sticking out. He looks like a dandy, with a cravat, sideburns and neatly styled hair.

Wergeland seems slightly melancholy, without much emotion. People reacted that the presentation did not match their memory of Wergeland, either in dress or behavior. But Bergslien did not want to create an intimate picture of the poet's inner life. The statue was a monument to the work of Wergeland the poet, adapted to the place where it would be erected.

Brynjulf Bergslien (1830-1898) was a sculptor. He came from an artistic family, and both his brother Knut and his nephew Nils are well-known painters. Bergslien studied at the Art Academy in Copenhagen, and stayed in Copenhagen for a total of nine years. When he went to Christiania in 1861 he met poor conditions and had to resort to ordinary craftwork. His breakthrough came in 1868 when he won the competition for the equestrian statue of Karl Johan, which was unveiled in the Palace Square in 1875. After that he had no lack of orders, and with his lush, vibrant sculptures Bergslien became known as one of the greatest sculptors in Norway.