The Man from The Island of Sunshine
Words & Interview: Sylvester Dunvad
Photos: Nikolaj Thaning
Imagine an artist letting several years pass between exhibiting his works. Imagine an artist bringing along paint and brush to make changes to his works during their rare exhibition. Imagine an artist turning up to make changes or reclaim a picture for "completion" in an owner’s private home. That artist is called Oluf Høst.
Høst graced the earth from 1884 to 1966. He was born in Svaneke, a town on the eastern side of Danish island Bornholm, which is known for its beautiful nature and magical summers – in fact, Bornholm is nicknamed 'The Island of Sunshine'. Høst later left Bornholm for the Danish capital, Copenhagen, to study art in various noble art schools. It was here, Høst fell in love with Paul Cézanne, a French artist known for mixing the best stylistic elements of impressionism and cubism into magnificent works of art. Compare Cézanne and Høst, and it is clear, that they were both sculpted by the then ongoing wave of expressionistic painting.
After making a name for himself in the artistic circles of Copenhagen, Høst decided to move back home, back to the the place that had not only shaped his childhood, but would also shape the later stages of his artistic career.
Now, around 50 years after his death, lies what seems to be the ultimate tribute to the man, who spent a good part of his life honoring the place that he loved. The Oluf Høst museum does not only displays the paintings of Høst, it also store the memories of him, as it is located in Høst’s former home – he lived in the exact buildings of what is now a museum, from 1929 until his death in 1966. The museum itself is located in Gudhjem on the eastern side of Bornholm.
The museum looks sort of weird. That is because Høst himself decided to construct his home out of two separate buildings, morphing them into what is now an instantly recognizable construction. With its red-painted outer walls and charmingly decorated insides, Høst’s emmaculate way of capturing the wintery light of Bornholm seems to perfectly contrast his paintings new home. In the museums accompanying garden, plum- and pear trees are still sprouting over 100 years after they were originally planted, and later immortalized in Høst’s series of Orion-paintings. White lilacs, pink rhododendrons and the smell of fresh growing parsley all contribute to the feeling of being in another world.
Now. This lovely nature of Bornholm, and indeed his own garden, would almost surely be depicted in bright bright, warm colours by most artists. Not through Høst’s though. Have a look at his before mentioned series of Orion-paintings, and it is immediately noticeable how the dark blue colour combinations completely dominate. Høst loved depicting Bornholm, not at its worst, but at its most scrappy and gnarly moments. In the late fall; when there would be no tourists left and the otherwise busy cities would quiet down. In January; when the otherwise so wavy and relaxing dunes would transform into cold and deserted hills, resembling some sort of hellscape.
Høst’s darker outlook on life could have owed itself to different things, but one thing is for certain. When he received notice of his son, Ole Høst, falling in battle during the second world war, his heart must have shed a tear. For instance, Høst would often seek to paint a scene located in the direction of the Eastern Front, where his son had lost his life fighting for the German cause. His darker sides also sprouted a vigorous sense of perfectionism, and a nagging feeling every time he would have to let one of his deeply loved paintings go by selling them. Imagine Høst showing up at a buyer’s private home to make sure, he had corrected his own ‘mistakes’! Høst was a special man, a man dedicated to depicting both the overcast of nature, but also his very own mind.