Summer Night, 1886
Oil on canvas, 133 x 151 cm
The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design - The National Gallery, Oslo. NG.M.02745
In the summer of 1886 the group of friends who had met while studying in Munich gathered at Christian Skredsvig's farmstead home Fleskum, outside Kristiania (Oslo). The Fleskum artists' colony is highly significant in the history of Norwegian art: it marks the definitive breakthrough of plein-air painting and heralds the arrival of Neo-Romanticism. Peterssen's sensitive Summer Night is a major work of that summer gathering, and a major work in his oeuvre. We look down into the still water of the lake and the glow of the last light of a long summer's evening. We do not see the sky itself; instead it is implied by the reflection of the crescent moon in the smooth water. Peterssen has transposed an idea from Puvis de Chavannes' famous Bois sacré (1884) to a specific Norwegian landscape setting. The elegiac mood possibly has symbolic overtones. The contrast between the vigorous trunk of the tree growing in the foreground of the picture and the dead birch lying rotting in the lake hints at the course of life, from youthful growth to inevitable death.