Arctic Journeys in Contemporary Printmaking: Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway and Her Art Foundation

Queen Sonja and Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam announced the partnership on board the MS Fram, Pier 90, New York City. Photo: Pontus Höök, Hurtigruten.

Beginning in 2019, guests onboard MS Roald Amundsen and MS Fridtjof Nansen, the world’s first electric hybrid–powered cruise ships, will be treated to a display of hundreds of original prints selected by Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway and her art foundation. This pairing of art and nature is the result of a partnership between Hurtigruten, founded in 1893 to provide guided expeditionary travel to the Arctic, and the Queen Sonja Print Award Foundation (QSPA), established in 2011 to promote the graphic arts.

In recent years Queen Sonja has become an avid supporter of contemporary printmaking as well as an artist in her own right. This transformation began during a trip to the Arctic island of Svalbard in 2006, when the Queen (then 69 years of age) descended into a ice cave under the Scott Turner glacier and took photographs of her otherworldly surroundings. These images later served as the foundation for a propitious art project in 2010, when celebrated Norwegian artist Kjell Nupen invited her and fellow artist Ørnulf Opdahl to experiment in printmaking with him at Atelje Larsen in Helsingborg, Sweden. Both accepted—Opdahl, a respected artist, had worked extensively in printmaking, but the Queen was new to the medium: she had long been a patron and admirer of the arts and had sketched and photographed as pastimes but had never undertaken serious art production. She brought her photos of the ice melt cave to serve as a basis for her explorations. The images were translated to photogravure, then layered by the Queen with soft ground and other intaglio techniques. She chose a jewel-like palette to convey the eerie light of these rarely observed natural phenomena. Nupen and Opdahl felt these first efforts “were too good to be stowed away in a drawer.”1 In response, the Queen explained her desire to establish a prize for younger artists, and the three, together with the printer Ole Larsen, decided to use their work to help launch this effort: in 2011 they published a portfolio of 24 images (eight each) based on the Norwegian landscape, titled Tre reiser—tre landskap (Three Journeys—Three Landscapes) in an edition of 50; all proceeds were donated to establishment of the Queen’s nascent art prize.2

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  1. The Queen Sonja Print Award Board of Trustees, “The Queen Sonja Print Award,” http://www.queensonjaprintaward.no/?page_id=23. []
  2. Further details on the project in Karin Hellandsjø, Tre reiser—tre landskap. H.M. Dronning Sonja, Kjell Nupen, Ørnulf Opdahl (Oslo: Orfeus, 2012). []