Norway quarrels over paintings depicting the discovery of America

Too colonial? Norway quarrels over paintings depicting the discovery of America

Started a debate: The painting “Leiv Eiriksson discovers America”.

© Heritage Images / Imago Images

The painting is very old, as is the discovery of America. Nevertheless, a debate about the new national museum is now raging in Norway – and is becoming a farce.

Who actually discovered America? The first reflex is probably: Christopher Columbus. But before his journey into the unknown in 1492, another European had already been there: The Norwegian Leiv Eiriksson set foot on the American mainland in 1021. And, of course, the answer is even more precise: the first people in the form of the indigenous population had been there for thousands of years at that point in time, and had still faced mammoths and giant sloths.

As harmless as this question is, it is currently causing a lot of dust in Norway. Eiriksson is still a national hero there – but the picture by the painter Christian Krohg “Leiv Eiriksson discovers America” ​​from 1893 has now been banned from the National Museum, quietly and secretly: when the National Gallery moved to a new building a few months ago, it migrated the unwanted picture in the basement instead of in the exhibition rooms.

The new National Museum in Oslo.  It only opened in 2022.

The new National Museum in Oslo. It only opened in 2022.


Apparently, hardly anyone had noticed this until the newspaper “Aftenposten” asked department head Stina Högkvist, who replied: “The picture is colonialist”. In addition, the picture does not reflect reality: after all, the emigrants at the time the painting was created were by no means daring heroes, but rather emigrants driven by poverty. Statements that in turn caused a stir. Such a fuss that Högkvist had to backtrack just a day later and apologize for her choice of words.

Director Karin Hindsbo also felt compelled to make a public statement: the picture had not been taken down for “ideological reasons”. When creating a collective exhibition with more than 400,000 exhibits, it is always difficult to make a selection. The comments under Högkvist’s post also show a social problem. Högkvist was severely insulted there, for example with the words that she was a bastard, raised by IS and must be deported.

The dispute now has a mild end: the painting is hung up again. For four weeks. And, as Hindsbo writes, not because they caved in: “That’s because we think it’s relevant to show a work that’s been the subject of so much discussion.”

Sources: Guest article Karin Hindsbo, “Aftenpost”, “NZZ”

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