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Book illustration in Norway underwent a major change in the 1890s. Designs and illustrations for books and their covers had previously been produced in Copenhagen, but as the turn of the century approached, a number of Norwegian artists and architects also took an interest in book design. Text and image, formerly two separate forms of expression, merged into a single art form.

The book Sjøfugl (Seabirds), written and illustrated by Thorolf Holmboe, is one of the finest examples of 1890s Norwegian book art. Holmboe was the first fine artist in Norway to pursue book design as an art form in its own right. Sjøfugl was published in 1896 by Johan Fredrikson in Bergen. It shows Holmboe’s love of nature and coastal life in northern Norway, with drawings of birdlife and more abstract depictions of jellyfish and seaweed. The illustrations are considered to represent a distinctive Norwegian version of Art Nouveau in their choice of motifs. The design itself is based on more international trends, using lighter, brighter colours and avoiding typical Norwegian elements such as coiled dragons and woodcarvings.

Norske Digte (Norwegian Poetry, 1893) is likewise a fine example of Holmboe’s more international leanings, and an early example of this influence in Norwegian applied art. (KK-J.00384)