Even as a boy, Erik Werenskiold (1855-1938) dreamed of becoming an artist, but his father wanted him to study law. While he was a student, the urge to draw and paint became stronger and stronger and, on the advice of Norwegian painter Adolph Tidemand, he travelled to Munich in 1875. A year later he was admitted to the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.
In Munich, in 1878, he painted Baerrensere (Berry Cleaners). When this painting was exhibited at the Christiania Art Society the same year, it was met with great enthusiasm. This was Werenskiold's breakthrough in Norway. He became acquainted with P. Chr. Asbjornsen and in the following years he was commissioned to illustrate a number of Asbjornsen's fairytales. Werenskiold raised the standard of Norwegian fairytale illustration to a high level. During this time, he also developed a more picturesque style of drawing. His fairytale illustrations won him international acclaim and were published in several countries.
Between 1882 and 1885, he spent a great deal of time in Paris, but on visits to Norway he painted, among other things, En bondebegravelse (Peasant Funeral). He found inspiration for this painting in Vaga in Oppland in 1878, but it was finally completed in 1885 with a Telemark background. This intense study of the workworn peasants round the grave is Werenskiold's most important work as a naturalist painter.
Werenskiold was a brilliant portrait painter. His portraits of many well-known Norwegian personalities display his psychological insight and skill in capturing the character of his subjects.
In the second half of the 1890s, he worked on illustrations for Jonas Lie's Familien pa Gilje (The Family at Gilje) and Snorre's Sagas. His almost one hundred Gilje drawings are regarded as some of the best in Norwegian book art.
Thirty paintings and a large selection of drawings and lithographs by Erik Werenskiold can be seen in the National Gallery in Oslo. He is also well represented in other collections and galleries, both at home and abroad.