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The institution’s history

Details from an ornamented piece of wallpaper.

Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode

For 200 years, we have collected, stewarded and disseminated art and music in Bergen.

Read about the prime movers, collectors and institutions that make up our history.

Kode Bergen Art Museum, is one of the largest museums for art, crafts, design and music in the Nordic region. Kode offers a unique combination of art museums and composers’ homes, showcasing contemporary art, historical objects, concerts and parklands.

The museum stewards over 50,000 objects, including paintings, works on paper, sculptures, installations, videos, musical instruments, furniture, and works of fine craft and design. These objects can be experienced in four different neighbouring art museums in the heart of Bergen and the three beautifully located homes of the composers Ole Bull, Harald Sæverud and Edvard Grieg.

Norway’s first official art collection: Bergen Museum and Bergen Visual Arts Museum

In 1825, President of the Storting Wilhelm F. K. Christie initiated the establishment of a museum in Bergen—Bergens Museum. His ambition was to create a museum covering a broad range of natural and cultural history, including collecting “art objects of metal, bone, wood etc. as well as paintings and drawings”.

To Christie, the political and cultural advancement of Norway were two sides of the same coin. Artist J. C. Dahl was also a prime moving force and contributed several valuable gifts of art. He was an important contributor in developing Bergen Museum’s paintings collection, which is the foundation of our visual art collection.

Bergen Visual Arts Museum was established in 1878 as a separate municipal institution on the initiative of Bergen Fine Art Association. At the time, the collection was part of Bergen Museum and on display in a building in the Engen area.

The Permanent Exhibition Building

The West Norway Museum of Decorative Art was established in 1887, with Bergen Crafts and Industry Association as its initator.

The museum’s intention was to show the public some of the best items produced at the time to stimulate the general public’s taste. Promoting your own nation’s industrial art was something that was happening all over Europe at the time.

In 1896, Bergen Visual Arts Museum and West Norway Museum of Decorative Art moved into the Permanent Exhibition Building, also called “Permanenten”, together with Bergen Fine Art Association and the Norwegian Fisheries Museum.

The first large donations

Local businessman Rasmus Meyer amassed a vast art collection and was among the first prominent Edvard Munch collectors.

When Meyer died in 1916, his children donated their father’s extensive and historical collection of art and furniture to Bergen city. They made one important condition to the municipality: that the collection should be made publicly accessible. The building erected for Rasmus Meyer’s collections was finished in 1924, designed by architect Ole Landmark.

The day after Meyer’s death, a devastating fire tore through Bergen and the city centre was left in ruins. Fortunately, Permanenten was unharmed and the artworks survived.

Troldhaugen becomes a museum

Edvard and Nina Grieg’s summer house at Troldhaugen was finished in 1885, designed by architect and Edvard Grieg’s cousin Schak Bull. The couple lived there the last 22 summers of Edvard Grieg’s life.

In the turbulent 1920s, in the wake of the First World War, widow Nina Grieg suffered great financial difficulties and was forced to sell Troldhaugen to Edvard’s relative Joachim Grieg. Large parts of the furniture and belongings in the house were also auctioned and spread far and wide. A few years later he decided to sell Troldhaugen to Fana municipality with the intent for it to become accessible to the public. The estate was opened as a museum in 1928.

Towards a modern museum

In 1950, Bergen Visual Arts Museum and Rasmus Meyer’s Collections were placed under the same administrative umbrella–Bergen Municipal Art Museum. During this period, museum dissemination became an important development area and the museum’s international network grew larger.

In 1971, the museum received its most substantial contribution in many years through the large donation from financier and art collector Rolf Stenersen. He sold his art collection to Bergen City for a tenth of its actual worth and provided the museum with a distinct reference framework within international modernism.

One of the conditions for Stenersen’s donation was that the city provided a suitable building for the collection. The foundation for the Stenersen collection achieved this by erecting a new building next door to the Bergen Fine Art Association, designed by the architect Sverre Lied.

Stenersen’s collection became a part of Bergen Municipal Art Museum and co-located with Bergen Visual Arts Museum’s collection in the new building, which was completed in 1978.

More composer’s homes are included

Ole Bull’s summer residence at Lysøen was built in 1872—1873. After Ole Bull’s death in 1880, the Bull family and their American heirs continued to use the villa in the summers.

In 1973, Sylvea Bull Curtis donated the estate to The National Trust of Norway’s Bergen branch and Lysøen was turned into a museum.

Harald Sæverud’s home was finished in 1939, designed by architect Ludolf Eide Parr. In 1984, the estate and a part of the house was left to Marie Hvoslef and Harald Sæverud foundation for the promotion of Norwegian music and the visual arts.

In 1993, the estate and the museum part of the house were transferred to Bergen municipality. Siljustøl was officially opened as a museum on the occasion of Sæverud’s 100th birthday in 1997.

Expansion down the avenue: Lysverket becomes a museum

In 1999, the new name for the municipal art collections was now Bergen Art Museum. This was part of a modernisation process which also included new exhibition premises at the avenue Rasmus Meyers allé.

The majestic administration buildingfrom 1938 that housed the former municipal power company Bergen Lysverker was turned into spaces for new permanent exhibitions.

Museum reform and consolidation

In the beginning of the 21st century, the largest ever reform of the Norwegian museum sector is initiated, with the aim to reduce the number of museum units. The art museums in Bergen were merged with the three composer’s homes and from now we are a museum for art and music.

Formally, this is the process: From 1 January in 2007, the then Bergen art Museum is consolidated with Permanenten—West Norway Museum of Decorative Art, Edvard Grieg Museum Troldhaugen, Harald Sæverud Museum Siljustøl and Ole Bull Museum Lysøen.

This new, large foundation was named the Art Museums of Bergen.

The final new name: Kode

In 2013, the museum established a new name that unifies all museums for art and music: Kode. From then on, Kode covers seven different arenas in and around Bergen.