About the collections
The Rasmus Meyer Collections
Foto: Thor Brødreskift
Industrialist Rasmus Meyer (1858—1916) from Bergen was a passionate art collector who amassed a vast amount of art during his lifetime.
Kode shows Rasmus Meyer’s collections in the museum carrying his name.
When Rasmus Meyer’s children donated the main part of their father’s collections to Bergen city in 1916 it was the most comprehensive private donation to the public Norway had ever seen.
The collection consists mainly of Norwegian art from the period 1814 to 1914. All in all, it holds more than 800 works, from visual art to furniture and interior parts.
Among the items are major works of prominent Norwegian artists like J. C. Dahl, Christian Krogh and Harriet Backer. Not least, the works of Edvard Munch gives the collection its great international importance.
Today, Rasmus Meyer’s collections at Kode are perceived as a fascinating time capsule of art that transcends time and space and a monument to a remarkable man with an extraordinary plan.
How did Meyer do his collecting?
Meyer came from a Bergen family with long trade traditions in Bergen. His father established Vaksdal mill outside Bergen in 1870 and Meyer became a partner in his father’s firm in 1890. They developed Vaksdal mill into of the most modern grain processing facilities in the Nordic region, and he also had success with his import operations.
Meyer’s good nose for business also showed itself in his work as a collector. He bought art purposefully and systematically, and the collection filled his extravagant house in Krybbebakken in Bergen to the brim.
In 1906 he worded his ambition: “… to collect of any artist who has been of any importance to Norwegian visual art a number of fine paintings that demonstrate the painter’s development down through the ages.”
His goal was for the collection to be publicly accessible and of wide appeal. Meyer dreamed of a building where his art could be exhibited for a larger audience.
What did he collect?
Gradually, Meyer amassed an extensive collection of J. C. Dahl, the father of Norwegian painting, and the earliest Norwegian painters. Towards the end of his life he focused on buying artworks from notable contemporary artists.
When building his collection, Meyer connected with valuable advisers, among them the artist Erik Werenskiold. He also developed a personal relationship to many of the artists he bought works from, like Gerhard Munthe, Harriet Backer and Edvard Munch.
Other central artists in the collection are Hans Gude, Christina Krogh, Frits Thaulow, Kitty Kielland and Nikolai Astrup, as well as Norwegian Matisse students Henrik Sørensen and Jean Heiberg.
Harriet Backer: Ved lampelys (1890)
J.C. Dahl: Nigardsbreen (1844)
Adolph Tidemand: Bryllupstoget gjennom skogen (1873)
Edvard Munch: Kvinnen i tre stadier / Woman (1894)
Rasmus Meyer and Edvard Munch
Meyer was somewhat ahead of his time in his interest in Edvard Munch. His collection presents a unique opportunity to follow Munch’s artistic development throughout all the phases of his artistic career.
Rasmus Meyer managed to purchase 31 paintings, 104 graphic works and an ink drawing from Munch. In a letter to the artist in 1909, Meyer expressed his contentment:
Edvard Munch: Sommernatt. Inger på stranden / Summer Night. Inger on the Beach (1889)
Edvard Munch: Melankoli / Melancholy (1894-96)
Edvard Munch: Selvportrett / Self Portrait (1909)
Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode
Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode
Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode
The great donation
Rasmus Meyer chose to end his life in 1916. His heirs, children Gerda and Finn Meyer, decided that the collection should benefit the public in line with their father’s plans. In 1917, they donated the collection to Bergen municipality. The deed of gift listed 818 works of art, whereof 550 paintings and more than a hundred historic furniture and interior pieces.
They made the condition that the collection should be publicly exhibited as a whole. The municipality decided to build a public museum for the collection. In 1924, a new museum building had been erected by lake Lille Lungegårdsvann, designed for Bergen city by architect Ole Landmark.
The building is designed in a neo-Baroque style, and the rooms are meticulously adapted to the exhibited art and furniture.
Historisk foto fra Rasmus Meyers allé, udatert / Historical street view of Rasmus Meyers street, undated. Foto: Olai Schumann Olsen / Universitetsbiblioteket i Bergen
Det er snart 100 år siden museet som bærer Rasmus Meyers navn ble oppført.
Foto: Fra Kodes arkiv
Arkivfoto fra samlingen / from the collections, 1924. Foto: ukjent /unknown.
Rasmus Meyer was also trained as a gardener and had a large park on his summer house estate at Åstveit in addition to an artistic city garden in Fjellsiden. He was especially fond of tulips, which he grew different types of in his garden.
The flower appears both in the soapstone ornaments and in Hjørdis Landmark’s posthumous portrait painting of the collector.