The Fairy Tale of Early Twentieth-Century Hydropower Development in Norway: Theodor Kittelsen's Paintings of the Major Waterfall Rjukanfossen
Helena Nynäs. Foto: Privat.
When major waterfalls in Norway became possible to develop around 1900, a major step was achieved. The step was a major international technological leap paralleled with changes of established attitudes towards grand, and until then, useless nature. Taking the until-then-useless waterfall Rjukanfossen in Telemark into use was a convergence of grand nature, large technological installations, big business and strong emotions. Transforming this waterfall was a large undertaking and was considered to deserve artistic treatment.
In 1907–1908 the Norwegian illustrator and painter Theodor Kittelsen produced a series of five watercolors of the waterfall's transformation. They were hung up at the industrial company's representational villa in Notodden. Within traditional landscape painting, water, and especially cascading water, was a standard element. However, Kittelsen's paintings introduced new versions of nature and nature use. This waterfall was totally transformed by being put into service as part of a Norwegian fairy tale. Dragons, elves, and old men in the mountain appear in the waterfall as part of the transformation.
The story the paintings tell did not fit well into the context of Norwegian national romanticism, where the Telemark region throughout the 1800s had been associated with “the nation's inner spirit.” The article will trace the production of these paintings, and the subjects depicted in them. It will analyse the nature versions the meeting between the company manager and the artist entailed. How did these paintings use Norwegian fairy tale images to depict a new version of controlled nature? The paintings did not simply thematize mastery over nature or grief over the loss of a waterfall, but a whole range of emotions like ambivalence, insecurity, envy and pride. They both confirmed and challenged the iconic status of major waterfalls in Norway.