Having returned from Scandinavia just the day before visiting Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway, I was totally in sync with Sohlberg’s incredible Norwegian landscapes: the wooden houses painted dark red, the pine tree forests, the big skies, the ever-changing surface of the sea and the big rocks that form a smooth, round backdrop to everything, writes Michael Holland.

Sohlberg painted a few portraits in the early years but it was the natural world that he wanted to put on canvas, and not just as landscapes but as symbolic representations of  life, so gradually he moved away from the personal and into the natural. There would be one or two people in the early work but they would never be the focus of the paintings. Eventually they would not be there, perhaps a hint of their presence with half finished drinks or tools left lying around spoke of their existence, but nothing more. The artist said of his love of the natural: ‘It has never occurred to me to regard nature as a painting… I have felt its enigmatic and incomprehensible side and I have instinctively sought to know and understand it.’

Sohlberg would take himself away from loved ones to immerse himself in the landscape he wanted to paint, often suffering hardships in Nordic winters, becoming a part of the natural world he loved. The art he produced demands attention, as what may at first seem like a simple landscape will quietly and slowly reveal symbolic motifs that depict the Norwegian psyche and Sohlberg’s soul.

Winter Night in the Mountains, regarded as the ‘National Painting of Norway’.

Harald Sohlberg: Painting Norway is on at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, SE21 7AD until 2nd June. Times: 10am – 5pm, Tuesday – Sunday. Admission: £16.50 Adult; £15.50 Senior Citizens; £8 Concessions. Phone: 020 8693 5254.

www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk