A Norwegian Cruise 8

Part Eight: 6th Port of Call, Ålesund, Møre og Romsdal, Norway

Another rainy morning greeted us in Ålesund, where we docked at a pier right next to the historical town centre.

As soon as the cloud cover lifted, we walked into town.

Ålesund is one of a network of 22 cities across Europe that formed a bond based on the common style of their architecture, Jugendstil. We have visited two of these cities over the years, Barcelona & Riga, and now, Ålesund.

In the early morning hours of January 23, 1904, disaster struck the people of Ålesund. A fire consumed first one residence and then, driven by high winds, spread with lightning speed across the entire town. Within a few hours 11,000 freezing people were homeless and Ålesund lay in ashes. The nation united behind the devastated town and the reconstruction of Ålesund was declared a “Project of National Importance”. Architects from across Norway – among them our friend Jens Kielland, whose work we saw in Bergen – gathered to plan and execute the resurrection from the ashes using modern fire safety measures and contemporary building materials. They created a new town in the unique style called National Romanticism, or monumental Jugendstil. Within three years, Ålesund stood proudly again, with 320 buildings forming a new city centre nestled amidst the coastal islands, mountains, and fjords of Norway’s majestic landscape.

One of these new structures was the Swan Pharmacy and residence. A three-story corner building commissioned by the Øwre family to serve as their business and family home.

Svane-Apotheket = Swan Pharmacy, now the Jugendstilsenteret [Jugendstil centre] & KUBE [Art & Culture centre]. Swans, with their elegant necks, were favourites in Art Nouveau decorative design.

Stepping into the private apartment of the Øwre family, one might get a little overwhelmed by the richness of the decoration, especially the wallpaper!

The next couple of rooms were dedicated to the amazing skill of the Norwegian gold- and silversmiths during the Art Nouveau period. The preferred motive tended toward nature, flora and fauna with a strong preference for bird images and butterflies. Representative techniques shown in the museum were overwhelmingly guilloche and painted enamel, especially enamel work.

Crocodile stick and I were in agreement, the following pieces are no longer Art Nouveau but Art Deco in style.

Mocha set, mirror-enamel over silver, designed by Thorbjørn Lie-Jørgensen 1900 – 1961, goldsmith and painter, produced by Atelier David-Anderson, 1930s
Tobacco jar, guilloche with enamel, Atelier David-Anderson, 1930
Inkwell, guilloche & painted enamel, Atelier David-Anderson, 1930

The intriguing little chameleon bowl below was created with a technique called pâte de verre, literally glass paste or glass dough. I had never heard of pâte de verre, so I had to google it, quite interesting! Amalric Walter 1870 – 1959 was one of the most outstanding masters of this technique. He and glass designer Henri Bergé often worked together from 1915 till Walter had to close his atelier in the late 1930s. His pieces were too expensive to make and people preferred to buy cheaper mass produced objects. Soon, he also began to lose his sight and could no longer work. This remarkable artist died blind, destitute, and largely forgotten.

Bowl with Chameleon by Amalric Walter & Henri Bergé, ca. 1919

Two more items caught my eye, be it only my German eye. Two magazine covers that in turn represent different aspects of the fin de siècle, the end of the 19th century, a time of great social and cultural change.

“Jugend” or Youth was the signature publication of the Munich Secession movement of visual artists who broke away from the mainstream, the traditional community of artists in 1892. One of their patrons, the journalist Georg Hirth began publishing the “Jugend” magazine in 1986. His publication was instrumental in bringing general attention to the artists and was, of course, name-giving for the movement. I believe this was the first volume published.

“Simplicissimus” [the simpleton, roughly] on the other hand, was a satirical, political publication best known for its opposition to the Imperial House, the Prussian military establishment, and the stiff Prussian bourgeoisie in general. The name goes back to the main œuvre of the 17th century author Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen. A great number of well-known authors published opinion pieces in the Simplicissimus, some having to pay fines or even serve a prison sentence for lèse-majesté, offending the sovereign.

One look out the window, however, showed us that it was high time to go and enjoy the gorgeous sunshine!

Good bye, Jugendstilsenteret!

Hello, Ålesund!

That evening we enjoyed a lovely sea food dinner, still with the backdrop of Ålesund behind us.

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