Exhibition at the museum

Harriet Backer (1845-1932)
The music of color

From September 24th, 2024 to January 12th, 2025
Harriet Backer (1845 - 1932)
Soirée, intérieur, 1896
© Oslo, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, NG.M.02216 / Photo: National Museum / Børre Høstland
Although little known outside Norway, within her country Harriet Backer was the most renowned female painter of the late 19th century. Highly acclaimed for her rich, luminous use of color, she created an eminently personal style that blends interior scenes and open-air painting. She drew inspiration from the realist movement as well as from the innovations of Impressionism, with free brushstrokes and meticulous attention to variations in light. She is also famous for her tender portraits of rural life and her interest in church interiors.

In an era when women were not considered to be full citizens in Norway, she broke the boundaries, becoming a key figure in the art scene of her time. A member of the board of trustees and the acquisitions committee of the Norwegian National Gallery for twenty years, at the beginning of the 1890s she opened a painting school where she taught some of the most notable artists of the next generation, including Nikolai Astrup, Halfdan Egedius, and Helga Ring Reusch. She received the support of collector Rasmus Meyer, also a great patron of Edvard Munch.


While Backer's painting evolved greatly in stylistic terms over the course of her long career, she stayed true to a limited number of subjects, and motif studies were an integral part of her work throughout. After detailing her artistic education in the great cultural capitals of the time, including Munich and Paris, the exhibition also presents the work of the artists in Harriet Backer's inner circle: Scandinavian women also educated in Europe and who shared her commitment to feminism. The exhibition then turns to the artist's preferred themes: rustic interiors, paintings of traditional Norwegian churches, landscapes, and her very particular approach to still-life painting. A large part of the exhibition is dedicated to pictures of musical scenes. Music was an important part of Backer's life: her sister, Agathe Backer Grondhal, was a famous musician in Norway and one of the main subjects of her paintings, where musical notes sing through the resonant brushstrokes.


This exhibition, the first retrospective of Backer's work in France, reflects one of the main principles of the Musée d'Orsay program: offering the opportunity to discover, alongside the work of the most emblematic figures, lesser-known artists who are nonetheless essential to an understanding of the most significant artistic developments of the second half of the 19th century. There has been particular focus on Norway due to its dynamic arts scene and the close ties Norwegian artists developed with the Parisian avant-garde.

The Harriet Backer exhibition is an initiative of the Oslo National Museum and the Kode Bergen Art Museum, and is organized in collaboration with the Stockholm National Museum and the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.

  1. Monday Closed
  2. Tuesday 9.30am - 6.00pm
  3. Wednesday 9.30am - 6.00pm
  4. Thursday 9.30am - 9.45pm
  5. Friday 9.30am - 6.00pm
  6. Saturday 9.30am - 6.00pm
  7. Sunday 9.30am - 6.00pm
Musée d'Orsay
Temporary Exhibition Area
Seine Gallery, level 0
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