Oluf Høst. ‘Vinterdagen Dør’, 1943. Oil on canvas, Oluf Høst Museum, Bornholm, Denmark.
I am fascinated by the quality of light found in the works of so many Scandinavian painters, especially those who worked during the early to mid 20th century. There is something about those long glowing edges of light angling up sharply from this horizon or that, depending upon the time of day, something about those varied shades of maritime radiance permeating clouds and clear skies and dozing snowscapes alike: I feel irresistibly drawn into their alternating moods of dour meditation and staid but euphoric contemplation of nature’s easy domination of man in the northern realms. One painter who attracts me is Oluf Høst (1884-1966), the only member of the so-called ‘Bornholm School’ of painters who was actually born on the remote Danish island of Bornholm.
Høst studied extensively in Copenhagen, but by 1929 had returned to his native island to remain for the rest of his life. One thing that intrigues me is his repeated attempts over the course of his long life to capture the shifting moods of light and weather and season in the buildings and landscapes of a little farm named Bognemark, located near his own home in Gudhjem, and which he eventually also acquired. In this respect, as in the example of his painting ‘Vinterdagen Dør’ (‘Winter Day Door’), he reminds me of no one so much as the American painter Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe’s many attempts to depict a single doorway in the courtyard of a ramshackle adobe house in a tiny New Mexican village, a house she eventually managed to buy and rebuild after a ten-year struggle to acquire it from its owners, form one of the staples of 20th century American art history. I like to think of O’Keeffe visiting Høst on his Bornholm farm and Høst returning the favor by making a pilgrimage to New Mexico. They seemed to have had some important things in common, though I doubt they ever met.
Bornholm itself is one of those places which interest me. Though part of Denmark for many centuries, it is closer to Sweden and connected to that country’s electrical grid. It has attracted a large number of writers over the years, such as Gustaf Munch-Petersen, who moved there in 1935, and Martin Andersen Nexø, who lived on the island from age 8 and took his name from the city of Nexø on Bornholm’s east coast. The Bornholm School of painters, to which Høst belonged, is well represented at the Bornholm Art Museum, located about 15 kilometers from Gudhjem, where Høst lived, and built on three levels on a hill sloping down to the sea. The galleries line each side of a kind of street along which water trickles down from the ancient Helligdomskilde healing spring. But you can also visit the Oluf Høst Museum, located in Høst’s family home named ‘Norresân’, in Gudhjem, built from two fishermen’s cottages.
And here’s another thing which fascinates me about Høst: he left a collection of 1,800 diaries, still mostly unpublished and held in the collections of the Royal Library in Copenhagen. According to Høst’s will, they will not become available until 2016, but Jens Henrik Sandberg, director of the Oluf Høst Museum, published a biography of Høst in 2012, based upon the diaries, and bearing the lovely title ‘Oluf Høst: jeg blev væk i mig selv’ (‘Oluf Høst: I was lost in myself’). The word ‘væk’ can also mean ‘missing’ or simply ‘away’ or ‘gone’. I think it’s wonderful.