What is rosemaling?
Rosemaling is the decorative folk art of rural Norway that flourished in the 1700's and 1800's. Rosemaling (rose painting) could be found on walls, ceilings, and furniture throughout Norway in homes and churches. Rosemaling was also found on smaller wooden objects such as trunks, ale bowls, stools, chairs, and jugs. The smaller wooden items were typical items used in daily Norwegian life.
The term rosemaling is likely based on the flower “rose” and “maling” meaning “painting.” However, some dialects within Norway use the word “rose” to mean “to decorate”. Combined, rosemaling can also mean “decorative painting.”
During the 1700's and 1800's ornamental painting was spreading throughout Europe. With Norway’s strong tradition of woodcarving, metal work and decorative weaving, decorative painting was a natural fit. It provided the foundation for rosemaling to take hold and flourish.
Influenced by the Baroque style which took hold in Norway in the 1600’s and later influenced by the Rococo style that emerged in the 1700’s, rosemaling sprouted and began spreading throughout rural Norway. Norwegian painters, who were primarily men, would brow from these influences, but in the desire to express themselves they painted their own interpretations, creating their own style.
Norwegian artistic spontaneity and expression gave this rural art form its unique characteristics. Some rosemalers traveled from valley to valley spreading rosemaling and their personal influence on the art. Some of these painters' effects can be recognized today. These influences combined with local painting styles evolved into a variety of regional rosemaling styles with many common similarities. The mountainous terrain of Norway contributed to the isolation of styles that helped form the unique styles we recognize today.
Around the 1850’s, rosemaling began to decline in quality and quantity. The reason for the decline is complex, but largely attributed to the Industrial Revolution. As stated by Norwegian rosemaling exert, Nils Ellingsgaard, “Classic rosemaling, which was a natural product of its age, withered and died with the passing of the old peasant society.” Lucky for us, it never completely died out. A few painters in remote valleys continued the old traditions handed down through their families.
In 1891 Norwegian patriotism and romantic feelings of the past saw the forming of the Norges Husflidsforening (Norwegian Association for Home Arts and Crafts). This group sought to identify crafts that were uniquely Norwegian. Rosemaling was identified as such. This ushered in a renewal of rosemaling and other old Norwegian crafts. The Husflidsforening arranged courses for artist to learn the traditional art of rosemaling.
Norwegian emigration to the U.S. brought with it rosemaling. The revival of rosemaling in America is often credited to Per Lynse, born in Lærdal, Sogn, Norway and emigrated in 1907 to Stoughton, Wisconsin. Per’s father, Anders Olsen was also a rosemaler and Per’s teacher.
In the late 1960’s the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, in Decorah, Iowa, began bringing Norwegian rosemalers to the U.S. to instruct the rosemaling-hungry Norwegian-Americans. Rosemaling’s color palette and folk-art nature made it very popular, even beyond Norwegian-Americans, beginning in the 1960's and into the 1980's. During this surge in popularity, instruction and clubs could easily be found in areas of the U.S. heavily populated with Norwegian-Americans.
Today, rosemaling clubs and rosemaling classes regularly meet throughout the country. RosemalingClasses.com was created to help foster access and growth of the U.S. rosemaling communities and learning.
Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum has a great resource for: What is Rosemaling.
Rosemaling styles are named after the area within Norway they originated. Styles can range from having subtle differences to being extremely different. The list below contains the most commonly found rosemaling styles. However, there are many additional minor styles.
Agder - Aust og Vest (East and West)
Møre og Romsdal
Rogaland (aka Ryfylke)
Sigdal and Eggedal
Sogn og (and) Fordane
The bolded styles are the most commonly taught styles in the U.S.