Art: Bergithe Johannessen - Set
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Bergithe Johannessen – watercolour painter from Vestmanna
Bergithe Christine Johannessen (1905-95) was the first Faroese to be admitted to the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Born in Vestmanna, she was the daughter of Madgalene and Niels Skaale Johannessen, merchant and grocer. Bergithe Johannessen was 18 years old when she travelled to London to study painting. She went to the Sidscup School of Art from 1923 until 1925 and specialised in watercolour painting. She then moved to Copenhagen, where she attended the School of Painting at Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1925 until 1931. After completing her studies, she continued living in Copenhagen, where she worked as a porcelain painter at the Royal Danish Porcelain Factory. In 1939, she married semi-skilled worker Arnold Rönnow Torp – Bergithe Johannessen was her artist name.
She travelled frequently to the Faroe Islands to paint and she participated in many Olaj Exhibitions from 1956 until 1980. She was also represented at the major exhibitions organised by the Faroe Islands Art Association in the 1950s: Faroese Art at the Free Exhibition Building in Copenhagen in 1995; Faroese Art at Iceland’s Museum of Art, Listasavn Íslands in 1961 and Faroese Art at the Bergen Art Association in 1970. The Faroe Islands Museum of Art has ten of her watercolours in its collection.
Bergithe Johannessen primarily painted landscapes; colourist watercolours featuring land, sea and skies. Sometimes the paintings have houses and sheep, but never people.
“Skærfyldt strand” (“Glowing beach”) is a watercolour painted in 1964. A green summer landscape unfolds in the foreground. In the middle of the picture is a fence and a sheep standing close to the edge of the rocks. The fence draws the eye towards the middle distance, from the edge of the beach, light, and rocks into the inlet, which takes over. On the other side of the inlet, another rocky landscape can be seen off in the distance, with thick green foliage under a heavy fog that hangs in the background.
“From Nolsø” is also a watercolour from 1964. Here, the foreground is split. On the right is an open view to the water in the middle distance; on the left, rocks rise up and block the view. Some of the forms in the foreground are similar to the other watercolour, but here the middle distance is painted more intricately. A stone dyke runs from the rocks to a field of grass. What appears to be driftwood along the dyke creates depth in the picture. A blue-grey cape spreads across nearly the entire middle distance, separating it from the background, which is a distant landscape on the other side of a strait. The sky is a heavy, light grey plane with scattered indications of clouds, emphasising the enclosed look. The inlet in the foreground is separated from the strait in the middle distance, which ends at the heavily clouded sky. Against the grey and white, the green colours in the grass and blue water create suspense in the painting.
Bergithe Johannessen also painted oil paintings. The Faroe Islands Museum of Art has one of these paintings from 1932. The main scene is a stream winding through a green landscape with grass hanging over the stream banks. A brown fell rises up fills the entire middle distance. In the background, a thin veil of fog covers the top and opens occasionally to reveal a light sky.
In the catalogue from the 1955 exhibition in Copenhagen, the author William Heinesen wrote that Bergithe Johannessen made “the fine, gentle watercolour her speciality”. In the Weilbach encyclopaedia of artists, the artist Bárður Jákupsson writes that she mastered the technique of watercolours in a brilliant and artistic way and that she portrayed atmospheres in the Faroese landscape, with a particular focus on villages and coasts.
Bergithe Johannessen watercolours and oil paintings are fine representatives of Faroese art from the mid-twentieth century. Her paintings portray landscapes, villages and the sea with empathy and a precise sense of colour and form.