Amazing Daisies (Frida Hansen’s Margariter)

Almost everyone has had the experience of seeing an art work in person and having an “aha” moment. Oh, that’s why it is a big deal! You realize that the image you had seen online or in a book didn’t do it justice. I had that feeling recently when I saw Frida Hansen’s Margariter (Daisies) at the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo.

Norwegian artist Frida Hansen developed her signature wool open warp tapestry technique in the late 1890s. Leaving unwoven sections in the tapestry created positive and negative spaces, with shifting effects depending on whether the transparency was lit from the front or back. The technique created drapeable textiles that were most often used as door draperies or curtains. Her transparencies created a bit of sensation when exhibited at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900.

The Norwegian Pavilion at the Paris Exposition of 1900. See more images here.

In Norway, the critic Henrik Grosch wrote approvingly about Frida Hansen’s work with transparencies, but felt that many of the patterns were a little too Japanese. On the other hand, he thought her Margariter, (Daisies) had more in common with old Norwegian tapestry patterns because of the rows of flowers.  Frida Hansen’s biographer, Anniken Thue, wrote, “Frida Hansen’s transparency, Margariter, had great success at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900, but home in Norway many Norwegian wrinkled their noses at her un-Norwegian style.”

While museums around Europe and wealthy collectors bought Frida Hansen’s tapestries and transparencies, Norwegian museums at the time did not. Luckily, the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo now owns two versions of Margariter. They received this fairly worn example as a gift in 1961.

They purchased this version in 1993.

The newer panel now hangs in the recently-opened Nasjonalmuseet, in the center of a small gallery, encased in plexiglass. You can admire the workmanship of both sides, and also step away to understand the beauty of the open warp technique.

All the photos I’ve seen of this particular design left me with a fairly neutral feeling – like this particular transparency created a fuss at a worlds fair? Then I ran into a historical photo showing Margariter panels used as curtains in a villa in Bergen.

Photo from the University of Bergen archives:

What a stunning, garden-like effect with the sun streaming through the open warps.

And then I had a chance to see Margariter in person at the Nasjonalmuseet. It was so beautiful. The designs between the daisies are complex; the positive-negative effect is pronounced; and the textile quality of the yarn makes it so appealing as an object. I could understand why it appeared so new to the audience at the World Exposition in Paris in 1900 – with a feeling of light and airiness so different than traditional tapestries. Here are my close-up photos.

And this was only a small part of my inspirational visit to the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo. You should go!

If you would like to learn about the life and work of Frida Hansen, I am giving a webinar for Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum on Saturday, July 8, “Frida Hansen: A Norwegian Art Nouveau Artist in Wool.” (1-2 pm CT; register free online).

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