painting, blue and white rays of light shine from behind a mountain.

Anna Boberg: the Swedish artist who painted the beauty of the northern lights

Painter who captured Arctic landscapes in Lofoten and northern Norway

Jolan Wuyts (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Anna Boberg was a versatile self-taught artist renowned for her depictions of Arctic landscapes from Lofoten, Norway, a place she held dear and frequented throughout her life.

Anna Boberg's early life and education

Anna was born in 1864 in Sweden. Her family carried a strong artistic heritage: she inherited her passion for art from her father, Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander, a prominent architect, and her mother, Carin Scholander, a theosophist and translator.

By 1887, she had dedicated herself to painting, primarily favouring watercolours. Her first exhibition was held in 1888. Her landscape paintings include studies from Jerusalem, the south of France and Italy among others.

painting, twisting trees growing around a building.
painting, two trees growing in front of a number of domed buildings.
painting, green trees and shrubs growing around a building in a rural landscape.

Despite lacking formal artistic training, aside from a brief stint at the Académie Julian in Paris in the late 1880s, Anna's talent flourished.

During her time in Paris, she crossed paths with her future husband, architect Ferdinand Boberg. In the photograph below, Anna is sitting among her paintings at an exhibition in 1914, chatting to Ferdinand.

black and white photograph, a seated woman and standing man in a gallery with paintings on the wall.

When did Anna Boberg paint the northern lights?

Even though Anna started painting after a trip to Spain, in her autobiography, it seems like her artistic life only really began in 1901.

This was when she went to the north of Norway for the first time, accompanying her husband. The landscape of Lofoten bewitched Anna so much that she refused to return home with Ferdinand, who had had to travel back without her. He sent Anna painting materials so she could capture her new obsession.

painting, a snowy mountain in the distance behind water and snow-covered ground.

Anna's paintings of the Northern Lights and the midnight sun are especially captivating, depicting the aurora borealis in all its mystique and vivid colour.

In winter 1901, Anna returned to Norway, writing in her memoir:

…when the full moon, like a sun made of ice, disperses the night of noon, when the aurora borealis flares among the stars and storm clouds and waves chase each other, when the Lofoten Wall forms a wondrous stronghold with bastions and towers of alabaster… and the sea becomes dotted with armadas of Viking ships. Return then, stranger, to behold the apotheosis of Arctic beauty and wilderness!

painting, northern lights in a deep blue sky above a mountain and water.
painting, blue and white rays of light shine from behind a mountain.

Ferdinand quickly realised that, as a good husband and architect, he would have to design and build a house for them in Norway.

Over the following 33 years, Boberg returned to her beloved Lofoten more than three dozen times, capturing its ethereal beauty in her paintings. The cabin in Svolvaer that Ferdinand had created for them was her pied-à-terre in the icy north.

painting, a harbour under snow, boats and a cabin behind snow-covered ground.
painting, boats in water with a wooden cabin in the background.

Although the Swedes were slow to warm to Anna's Norwegian scenic paintings, her work gained a lot of attention in Paris and the United States. The American press even went as far as calling her 'Sweden’s greatest artist'.

Anna's last exhibition took place in 1927. In 1929, Ferdinand and Anna went back to live in Stockholm, Sweden, where she died after surgery complications in 1935.

Anna has only recently been reconsidered by the Swedish art world as one of the great Scandinavian landscape painters. Since 2018, her art has been on permanent display at Nationalmuseum, Sweden's museum of art and design.