Setesdal Valley in Norway -
a unique and well preserved rural tradition

Setesdal Valley, the dale that time forgot - for a while

This valley has traditions dating far back in time, preserved better than in most other areas of the country. It is reflected in the valley's handicrafts and music. Perhaps even more so in the language - or dialect - in fact the people's way of speaking has unexpected parallels in English - as strange as that may seem.

Because of the isolation of the valley for hundreds of years, being difficult to reach by road and over mountains, particularly the northern part of the valley, there was little contact with the outside world nearer the coast.

The isolation did not change much until a railroad line was completed at the end of the 1800s.

The painter Olaf Isaachsen is remembered as the painter who "discovered" the area, this conservative and isolated valley where little had changed through the centuries.

He wanted to paint the history and found that it was more a continuous living tradition that extended into his own time.

By the locals he was referred to simply as "Olaf the painter".


From Setesdal

He immersed himself in the life and folklore and became the first important interpreter of the valley's peculiar culture, with a sharp eye for the individuals in the population and the light and colors of old traditional living rooms and lofts.

Isaachsen lost both his wife and his little daughter to tuberculosis within a short period of time, and after that he became infamous for a sometimes violent lifestyle.

His depression developed into a deep melancholy. But this could not be detected in his paintings. They became more luminous and more colorful as the years went by.

For a long time he painted portraits for a pittance, just to survive. As a student he was taught by Alfredo Andersen who later became a towering figure in the arts of Brazil.

He himself is remembered as one of the great painters of Norway, most of all as a master of color and light - and - for his depiction of life in Setesdal.

Setesdal Valley

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