Skip to content
Harriet Backer, «Evening, Interior», 1896. Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Børre Høstland
Harriet Backer, «Evening, Interior», 1896. Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Børre Høstland

Press release -

Major exhibition presents the work of pioneering Norwegian painter Harriet Backer

Harriet Backer. Every Atom is Colour
The National Museum, Oslo, Norway
30 September 2023–14 January 2024

22 February 2024–18 August 2024
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

24 September 2024–11 January 2025
Musée d’Orsay, Paris

21 February 2025–15 June 2025
Kode, Bergen

The National Museum, Oslo and Kode Bergen Art Museum are pleased to present a major exhibition, accompanied by a publication, tracing the life and work of pioneering Norwegian painter Harriet Backer. Harriet Backer. Every Atom is Colour will explore her interior scenes, landscapes and portraits, and bring together nearly 80 paintings, drawings and sketchbooks, including rarely seen works from private collections.

The exhibition will open at The National Museum in Oslo, Norway, on September 30, 2023 where it will be at display until January 14, 2024. Touring to the Nationalmuseum Stockholm and the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2024, and to Kode Bergen Art Museum in 2025, the exhibition is the first dedicated to Backer outside Norway since 1925.

Harriet Backer (1845-1932) was a leading artist in her lifetime, occupying a central position in the Scandinavian art world, irrespective of gender. Every Atom is Colour will place Backer’s life and work in a time when society and women’s rights were undergoing radical change throughout Europe.

A prominent colourist with a feeling for light and atmosphere, she also established herself among artists abroad. The 15 years she spent in Munich and Paris were a turning point in her development. Arriving in Paris in 1878, she enrolled in Madame Trélat de Vigny’s atelier, where she met other women artists – including the Swedish painter Hildegard Thorell (1850-1930). Backer’s colleague and close friend from Münich, the Norwegian landscape painter Kitty Kielland (1843–1914), accompanied her to Paris where they shared an apartment in the city together for ten years.

Backer saw the male-dominated art world as a challenge, though she tended toward actions rather than words. In 1888, she established a renowned school for painters in Oslo, which she ran until 1909. Many significant artists such as Nikolai Astrup, Harald Sohlberg, Charlotte Wankel, Halfdan Egedius and Astrid Welhaven attended Backers school.

She also participated in the 1889 and 1900 Expositions Universelles, earning a silver medal in 1889 and through her positions on purchasing committees and exhibition juries, she played a substantial role in establishing equality and professionalism in the Norwegian art world which is still apparent today.

Backer was enchanted by Impressionism and particularly the paintings of Claude Monet, whose principles of plein air painting and attention to the effects of light she would come to apply to her quiet interiors, exploring its nuances and movement through the space from morning to evening, and from spring to winter. She was deeply interested in colour, perfecting strong clear contrasts that would sometimes lend an abstract impression to her otherwise lifelike scenes.

Backer’s interiors quickly gained her recognition in both Paris and beyond, and were shown across Europe and at the World Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Returning to Oslo, Backer sought out the interiors of private homes, small farmhouses and churches, portraying people in the spaces where they lived, worked, and felt at ease. Her own studio apartment in Oslo, where she lived for circa 30 years, also frequently features in her work.

Blue Interior (1883) remains her most famous work and will be a highlight of the exhibition. When it was shown for the first time in Copenhagen in late 1883, the Norwegian critic and art historian Andreas Aubert was impressed: ‘Every atom is colour’, he said. She had ‘conquered a new and fertile domain’ and firmly established herself in the present age.

Backer’s early ambition had been to be a portraitist, and she continued to paint people throughout her career. It was important to her that she knew her sitters, but while many of her subjects were her friends, others were from very different social circles. A number of her portraits will feature in the exhibition, including her only self-portrait from 1910.

Notes to Editors:
The exhibition is curated by Vibeke Waallann Hansen at the National Museum in Olso and Tove Haugsbø at Kode Bergen Art Museum. Carina Rech is curator at Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, and Leïla Jarbouai at Musée d’Orsay.

An extensive exhibition catalogue, Harriet Backer. Every Atom is Colour edited by Tove Haugsbø and Vibeke Waallann Hansen and published by Hirmer Verlag in English and Norwegian will accompany the exhibition.

Additionally, a new children’s book, Harriet Backer: In My Studio written by Helga Anspach and Tove Haugsbø, illustrated by Signe Torp, and based on Backer’s own letters will be published by Kode Bergen Art Museum and National Museum in Oslo in Norwegian and English.

Harriet Backer. Every Atom is Colour has been initiated by The National Museum, Oslo and Kode Bergen Art Museum, and organized in collaboration with Nationalmuseum Stockholm and Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Harriet Backer. Every Atom is Colour is supported by the Savings Bank Foundation DNB, The Bergesen Foundation, H. Westfal-Larsen og Hustru Anna Westfal-Larsens Almennyttige Fond, Yvonne og Bjarne Rieber, og Ragnhild Willumsen Grieg og Per Grieg Jr.



The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design is the largest art museum in the Nordics. The collection contains 400,000 objects ranging from the antiquity to the present day and includes paintings, sculpture, drawings, textiles, furniture and architectural models. The new museum building opened in June 2022. At the National Museum visitors can experience a comprehensive Collection presentation of around 6,500 works, as well as a varied programme of temporary exhibitions and events. 


Simen Joachim Helsvig

Simen Joachim Helsvig

Press contact Kommunikasjonsrådgiver +47 917 64 327