AKSEL WALDEMAR JOHANNESSEN (1880-1922)
Controversial Norwegian artist who studied at The Royal School Of Drawing and was a member of leading art group The National Movement, along with well-known
Norwegian cultural personalities such as Hulda and Arne Garborg.
Johannessen was married and had two children. His wife ran a dressmaking studio called Heimen. Both Johannessen and his wife Anna worked for The Norwegian Theatre. However, only his closest friends knew that he also was painting.
When Johannessen died under tragic circumstances at age 42, his paintings were exhibited at Blomqvist (A celebrated art gallery in Oslo). Edvard Munch saw the exhibition and was a vocal fan of his work. Munch stated that the paintings were among the most extraordinary he had ever seen.
The legendary art critic and Munch’s closest friend Jappe Nilssen wrote in Dagbladet in 1923 about the exhibition: "It is definitely not the bright side of life Johannessen chose to paint in his short artist court, as well as himself did not know of the sunshine in his own life. It was the rootless, the destitute. The drunkards and the beggars, those who were on the edge of society, the proletarians, the harlots, he preferably portrayed; and it is in this portrayal of this loose existences that he sometimes achieves an effect, so the painting veritably etches into one's recollection. There is such a glow and intensity in these paintings, that I can hardly remember seeing anything like it in Nordic painting."
When Johannessen’s wife Anna died abruptly (while the exhibition was running), the paintings suddenly disappeared, forgotten in Norway's recorded art history. It was later found that they were seized by the family's legal guardian on behalf of their two
children. Because of this, his life's work was stowed away and forgotten with family and in a rural barn until art collector Hakkon Mehren found them and sought to share the artist's work with the world.
Haakon has dedicated over 30 years of his life to give the Norwegian painter Aksel Waldemar Johannesen the recognition he feels he deserves. Because of his tireless efforts, Johannessen’s work is now part of leading international collections around the world, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
While his work has finally found acclaim internationally, at home in Norway his talent
remains controversial and at odds with the current art establishment.