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Gustav I. Gulliksen, Painter


In Skien, Norway, in 1855 artist Gustav I. Gulliksen was born. Delighting int the folklore of his native land, many of his paintings were inspired by the fairy tales Hans Christian Anderson and Absbjornsen and Moe. When Gulliksen immigrated in 1903, he brought this imaginative tradition with him to the United States.

Gullikson worked as an artist for fifteen years in the Chicago area, but later moved to Grand Forks and he remained in North Dakota the rest of his life. In September of 1933 Gulliksen had an exhibition at the state capitol in Bismarck featuring over 50 of his works. Included were a series of paintings portraying scenes from the Norwegian fairy tale Soria Moria Castle.

Like many fairy tales, Soria Moria Castle concludes with the triumph of the underdog. The hero slays the many-headed troll to win the heart of the fairest maiden in the land. The hero is the“ash boy” or “askeladen”, the protagonist of many Norwegian fairy tales. The fairy tale traditions of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have many similarities, but the character of the “ash boy” is exclusively Norwegian. Although often depicted as lazily poking about in the ashes, this character always prevails in the face of tribulation with his pluckiness and wit.

Gulliksen’s painting style suited the fairy tale. Educated at prestigious art schools in Olso, Copenhagen, and Berlin, Gulliksen was influenced by the popular styles at the turn of the 19th Century in Europe. Marked by large, organized compositions of historical scenes, the mood was romantic and theatrical with intention to inspire awe. Gulliksen was also a member of the Dusseldorf school of painting whose grand European style influenced the Hudson River school in the United States. Emanuel Luetze’s Washington Crossing the Deleware is a famous example of this style.

Another painting grandly portraying America’s forefathers was presented by Gulliksen to North Dakota. In 1936, Gulliksen recreated of the famous Declaration of Independence Painting from Independence Hall, Philadelphia. Gulliksen’s gift was 7ft x 9 ft and took 6 months to complete. It hung in the Capitol’s Senate chambers for many years.

Gulliksen took inspiration from the past, of heroes real and imaginary. Today, large-scale paintings depicting heros no longer epitomize artistic achievement. Art is almost anything from a sticker on a subway door to a sound-bite on you-tube. However, in our modern media the need for awe and the tradition of storytelling remain.

Bismarck Tribune, September 6, 1933

Fargo Forum, September 20, 1936.

Grand Forks Herald, February 16, 1941