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About the collections

The Rasmus Meyer Collections

Inngangspartiet til Rasmus Meyer, hvor det står skrevet Rasmus Meyers samlinger over døren

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.

Sort-hvitt fotografi fra Rasmus Meyer, som viser en eldre presentasjon av verk av Edvard Munch.

Arkivfoto fra samlingen / from the collections, 1924. Foto: ukjent /unknown.

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.

Maleriet Ved lampelys av Harriet Backer framstiller en kvinne som sitter ved et bord og leser i lyset fra en lampe

Harriet Backer: Ved lampelys (1890)

Maleriet Nigardsbreen av J.C. Dahl framstiller en blåhvit isbre i et norsk fjellandskap

J.C. Dahl: Nigardsbreen (1844)

Maleriet Bryllupstoget gjennom skogen framstiller et brudefølge med mange mennesker i lystig humør, på vei gjennom en skog

Adolph Tidemand: Bryllupstoget gjennom skogen (1873)

Maleriet Kvinnen av Edvard Munch framstiller tre kvinner, med en mannsfigur ytterst i bildet til høyre

Edvard Munch: Kvinnen i tre stadier / Woman (1894)

Rasmus Meyer’s collections had its own splendour to us young students, equal to any museum […] Owing to a more flexible purchasing system, Rasmus Meyer often happened to snatch the finest of paintings under the very nose of the National Gallery and other museums. The result was that we had to turn to ‘Rasmus Meyer’ to get a rich impression of certain artists […] I don’t remember when it was I visited Bergen and got access to Rasmus Meyer’s collections. One felt a certain anxiety that someone would set a match to the old wooden house where parts of the magnificent Edv. Munch collection was arrayed in the attic on loose walls on hinges.

Jean Heiberg

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:

Et maleri av Edvard Munch av en kvinne som sitter på en stein på en strand, mens hun skuer mot venstre

Edvard Munch: Sommernatt. Inger på stranden / Summer Night. Inger on the Beach (1889)

Et maleri av Edvard Munch, som viser en mann sittende på en strand, mens han hviler hodet i den ene hånden

Edvard Munch: Melankoli / Melancholy (1894-96)

Et selvportrett av Edvard Munch, som viser maleren med ansiktet mot oss, malt i sterke farger.

Edvard Munch: Selvportrett / Self Portrait (1909)

(In Norwegian) Med det Kjøb, jeg dennegang har gjort og med de Billeder, jeg tidligere har af Dem, synes jeg at jeg maa ha naaet det Maal jeg har sat mig: At gi et fyldigt Billede af Deres Udvikling, saa at de, der vil studere Deres Kunst hos mig vil kunne følge den i alle dens Stadier. (Translated) With the purchase I now have made and the paintings that I previously have from You, it seems to me I must have reached the goal I set: to present a rich picture of Your development so that those who wish to study my collection of Your art will be able to follow it through all its stages.

Rasmus Meyer
Museet Rasmus Meyers sett forfra, i kveldslys

Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode

Tre barn sitter på en benk i museet Rasmus Meyer, med ryggen til, mens de betrakter malerier

Foto: Dag Fosse / Kode

En kvinne som peker mot et maleri, med et verk av J.C. Dahl i bakgrunnen

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.

Sort-hvitt fotografi som viser en kvinne som går foran museet Rasmus Meyer

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.

Sort-hvitt foto fra et eldre interiør i museet Rasmus Meyer

Foto: Fra Kodes arkiv

Eldre fotografi som viser Munch-malerier i museet Rasmus Meyer

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. 

Et portrett i helfigur av Rasmus Meyer, stående med en tulipan i hånden.

Hjørdis Landmark: Portrett av Rasmus Meyer / Portrait of Rasmus Meyer (1933)