Whoever walks from Oslo’s Central Station to the Royal Palace will find a large number of sculptures of various kinds. Here you can read what they are, where they are and a little about their background.
The account is divided into two parts. This first part starts at Oslo S (i.e. the central bus and train station) and ends in front of the Storting, the country’s national assembly. The next and last article describes the walk from the Storting and up the hill to the Royal palace and park.
This article was first published in Norwegian on Sandalsand Norge. That article is being updated with new content as necessary. So check it out even if you don’t read Norwegian.
In the text below the years indicate year of unveiling, while the name of the artist is self-explanatory. The text is my own, inspired by different sources. Note that I have included links to Wikipedia articles, to the delight of those who would like to learn more about the notabilities. The reader will also notice that I have categorised the sculptures (A, B, C). The explanation follows at the end of this article.
Map with location of the sculptures
Expand the map to a larger size (separate tab) or move around on the map here and now.
A remark: We adhere to a radius of approximately 100 metres from Karl Johan street, the nation’s main artery. It may be that some sculptures are unconsciously overlooked, and might be included in a later update. Reliefs and other embellishments on building walls and roofs are deliberately omitted. The same applies to artistic decorations indoors.
Leg 1: From Oslo S to the Storting
Note that you can click on any thumbnails to get them into almost full size.
We start in front of Oslo S (central station) or rather in front of old part of it, called Østbanehallen. Here we find a full grown tiger cast in bronze. Foreigners or illiterate Norwegians will hardly surmise anything but this being a kitsch artwork. It’s fun for kids to stick their hands into the mouth or to sit on the tail. Be enlightened to know that the tiger refers to the concept of Tigerstaden (Tiger city), with reference to Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1889. He was allegedly talking about “this cold city”. Here they have literally taken “the bull” by the horns and embodied this not entirely benevolent characteristic. 2000. Artist: Elena Engelsen
The next sculpture is almost like a relief, hanging on the wall of the Council of Europe Square, across the road from the Central Station. On the inscription we can read “Mrs. Fortuna is the goddess of fate. With ball and sail she appears capricious and changeable. “2005. Artist: Per Ung.
We walk up Kirkeristen to Oslo’s cathedral. Here we find two gentlemen on plinth.
The organist and composer is honoured with his head and upper torso on a base very close to the Cathedral wall. Notice the organ pipes on the column. Lindeman was a great organist, internationally as well. He played in the cathedral from 1840 to 1887. The psalm poet Lindeman is known among Norwegians for his “Påskemorgen slukker sorgen”. He started in the late 1800s an organist school which later became the Norwegian Academy of Music. 1906. Artist: Carl Ludvig Jacobsen.
He too is immortalized in bronze on a plinth at the Cathedral, also known as the Church of Our Saviour. Wexels served as a priest here in the beginning of the 1800s, and was reported to be a great interpreter of Grundtvig and Pontoppidan. 1909. Artist: Carl Ludvig Jacobsen.
We now turn away from the cathedral to face the square called Stortorvet. From a distance we may admire the artwork on the former bank building on the opposite side of the square from the Cathedral. However, it is not included in this walk. Straight ahead there is a familiar figure:
The famous Danish king of the union of Denmark-Norway is cast in bronze in full figure with a sword on his side, pointing out where the city should be built. As such, the statue is totally misplaced because the square is far outside the city limits of his time. The city was largely wiped out in the great fire of 1624 and King Christian commanded the relocation of the town across Bjørvika towards the protective walls of the Akershus fortress. Moreover he commanded that Christiania (as it was called) should no longer allow wooden buildings. 1880. Artist: Carl Ludvig Jacobsen.
From this point and all the way to the Storting (national assembly) there is no other artwork, not even on the very popular square called Egertorget. An exception are the human sculptures (non-moving street performers) we occasionally encounter, but they do not count in this context. We have the aforementioned relief facing Stortorvet and to some extent this stone (Cat C), on the corner of Karl Johan and Møllergata / Kongens gate.
But what is art? Whoever takes his time walking Oslo’s Karl Johan street will reap the fruits of fine art by looking up. Buildings along the nation’s main street are abundantly adorned on the walls and in the transition to the roofs – what is called the cornices.
Leg 2: The Storting
The Norwegian parliament is full of important men and women, of importance to the nation’s development. The presumably most important politicians throughout history are displayed on the Eidsvolls square in front of the Storting, but we start with some completely different characters.
Christian Krogh (Cat B)
Laid-back one might call this style. Painter, writer and bohemian Krogh sits very well in his chair, a stout man with a full beard. He had great significance in Norwegian society in the late 1800s and into the previous century. 1960. Artists: Asbjørg Borg Fields and Per Hurum.
Krogh is placed on Stortings plass (square). On the other side of the Storting we find Wessels plass (square).
Johan Herman Wessel (Cat B)
Wessel was a poet and writer in the latter half of the 1700s. There is a bust in bronze placed on the square that bears his name. Wessel lived a very hefty student life in Copenhagen, but had enough presence of mind to be central to the founding of the Norwegian Society. Thus, he was part of the awakening of what we might call the idea of “Norwegian”, one of the trails leading up to 1814. He is probably most noted for his humorous and satiric verse tales.
The Lions (Cat A)
We will now walk up the Løvebakken (Lion Hill) in front of the Storting, named so because of the two lions at each foot of the hill. It is not uncommon in different cultures to use lions as national symbols. The king of beasts is also used in the Norwegian seal. As the Storting is the very centre of democracy, it must be justified by the use of lions. The lions were finished when they opened the parliament building. 1866. Artist: Christopher Borch, but carved by convicts.
Wilhelm Frimann Koren Christie (Cat B)
Inside the gate and to the side of the front door we find Christie in full figure. The man with the long name was central in the constitutional efforts at Eidsvoll in 1814, and received considerable praise for the result of the negotiations with Sweden later that year. 1989. Artist: Kristian Blystad.
We walk down Løvebakken to have a look at a rather large collection of other key individuals in recent Norwegian history. We can start with the most recently unveiled statue.
Experts of law may discuss how legal this king actually was, and there were possibly other reasons as well as to why the man who was designated as King of Norway in 1814, was presented in a sculpture as late as on 17th of May 2014. Now he is here, straight in the back too. Christian was not totally without fortune, he became king of Denmark 25 years later. Artist: Kristian Blystad
We are now making a jump in time, but only a couple of metres in distance, to Norway’s secession from Sweden. We are going to 1905 and the elegant actions of this man from Bergen, to end the country’s 90 years old union with Sweden. Peter Christian Hersleb Kjerschow Michelsen was prime minister in those days, and was involved in the formulation that was read in Parliament 7. June 1905 “… by the dissolution of the union with Sweden under one King, resulting from the fact that the King no longer functions as a Norwegian King”. 1990. Artist: Per Palle Storm.
This Liberal politician will forever be linked to the introduction of parliamentarism in Norway. Sverdrup stood previously on Wessels square, but the statue in full figure has now been moved down to Eidsvolls square, next to Karl Johan street. 1964. Artist: Stinius Fredriksen.
Hambro is standing on the other side of the square, next to the Stortingsgata street. He was one of the foremost conservative politicians in the first half of the 1900s. Editor of the Morgenbladet newspaper, representative to and president of the Storting for many years. He is probably most famous for being a great orator. 1994. Artist: Kjell Grettefoss Christensen.
Different categories of sculptures
The popular aspects of city beautification has traditionally had a great influence. It usually means that a collection of sculptures includes several with a touch of kitsch. They are purely for pleasure, and are often extremely popular among children who occasionally can climb on them. We also find several of them in Oslo’s city centre: Deers in Spikersuppa is a clear example of it. (I call them category A, “kitsch”.)
All cities need to show off their proud men, and to some extent also women – particularly those who have been dead for a while. A country’s capital will in addition need to highlight people who have meant a lot for the country. Accordingly, we find on this walk a number of statues (of men) in full size or in the form of busts (i.e. head placed on a plinth). The density is strong in front of the Storting, Christian Michelsen to name one. (I call this category B.)
Sometimes, but very little on our walking route, we find the free pieces of art. The sculpture may be non-figurative, but also figurative. The artist may leave the interpretation to us. Some call it modern art, I call them category C, the “think for yourself” sculptures.
Despite the reader’s suspicion, there is no rank behind the categorization and naming. In my opinion a city needs artwork of all types, at the end of the day it is about finding the right balance between them. When you have joined me on this urban hike to almost 40 sculptures, you will probably conclude the same as I did, that this part of Oslo has too few category C sculptures. (The numbers are coming up in the next article.)
And here I think we make a little pause in our description. The urban hike continues from the Storting to the Palace Park (Slottsparken) in three stages:
- Leg 3: A kitsch intermezzo
- 4: Culture and academia
- 5: The Royal Palace park