This painting representing a mid-winter sacrifice (blot), an evocation of Norse mythology, created a controversy. It is difficult to imagine that an inoffensive masterpiece by Carl Larsson (1853 – 1919), the artist who gave us Ett Hem, should have been targeted in any form of dispute and that morality should have been an issue. However, the vast mural, now at long last housed in the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts, did unleash a debate and although commissioned for the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts and completed in 1915, four years before Carl Larsson’s death, it was rejected.
In fact, it did not adorn the prominent wall for which it was intended until 1997, when the Museum bought it from a Japanese collector who had purchased it at Sotheby’s in London, in 1987. Opinion changed when the fresco was borrowed from its Japanese owner for the National Museum’s bicentennial anniversary in 1992, the anniversary being dedicated to Carl Larsson. Public praise of the large fresco was such that the National Museum was motivated to buy back the mural and install it where it was meant to be installed in 1915.
According to legend, during a lengthy period of famine, kind Domalde was sacrificed in the hope that his land would again feed his people. The story is told by Adam of Bremen a German medieval chronicler who lived in the second half of the eleventh century. It is also told by Snorri Sturluson (1179 – 23 September 1241) an Icelandic historian, poet, and politician, in his Ynglinga saga (1225). Wikipedia has incorporated the relevant part of Sturluson’s saga. The following is Sturluson’s account of Kind Domalde’s sacrifice, quoted in Wikipedia:
Domald took the heritage after his father Visbur, and ruled over the land. As in his time there was great famine and distress, the Swedes made great offerings of sacrifice at Upsal. The first autumn they sacrificed oxen, but the succeeding season was not improved thereby. The following autumn they sacrificed men, but the succeeding year was rather worse. The third autumn, when the offer of sacrifices should begin, a great multitude of Swedes came to Upsal; and now the chiefs held consultations with each other, and all agreed that the times of scarcity were on account of their king Domald, and they resolved to offer him for good seasons, and to assault and kill him, and sprinkle the stalle of the gods with his blood. And they did so.
Midvinterblot was to contrast with a painting, by Carl Larsson, of Gustav Vasa’s march into Stockholm, in 1523, a midsummer theme.
The rejection of Carl Larsson’s Midvinterblot was painful, but he had a refuge: Ett Hem, and he is now a beloved legendary figure.
Edvard Grieg – Solveig’s Song (please click on the title to hear the music)