Jens Thiis

Østre Aker, Norway, 1870–Oslo, 1942

A scholar of the Renaissance whose work earned him honorary citizenship to the city of Florence, Jens Thiis was also instrumental in promoting contemporary art in Norway during his tenure as director of the National Gallery, Oslo, from 1908 until 1941.

From 1895, Thiis was a curator at the Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum (National Museum of Decorative Arts) in Trondheim, and during this time he published his Norske malere og billedhuggere (Norwegian Painters and Sculptors, 1904). This text, which is considered the first truly comprehensive history of Norwegian art, presented contemporary Norwegian art at a crossroads. In Thiis’s view, a growing number of Norwegian artists had turned their attention toward recent French painting, breaking from the German influence that had dominated the nation’s art for more than half a century.

When Thiis joined the National Gallery a few years later, he built a strong base of modern French painting while also buying works by contemporary Norwegian artists. His acquisitions included five paintings by Edvard Munch, which he purchased during his first year as director. In return, Munch painted Thiis’s portrait in 1909 (Munch Museum, Oslo). The two continued a close relationship of mutual support for many years; in 1933 Thiis penned a monograph on Munch, which would appear in German translation a year later.

A visit to the collection of Russian textile merchant Sergei Shchukin in 1913 convinced Thiis of the importance of Henri Matisse’s and Pablo Picasso’s artistic accomplishments. The following year, Thiis purchased five canvases for the National Gallery by young Norwegian painters belonging to a group called De 14, whose leaders had studied with Matisse in Paris. In 1921, at the second of the Kahnweiler sequestration sales, Thiis purchased Picasso’s Guitar, Glass and Pipe (1911−12) and Guitar (1912) for the National Gallery. In a text written in 1923 for the Jubileumsutställningnen (anniversary exhibition) in Göteborg, Thiis noted the effect of Picasso’s experiments on Norwegian painting, but conceded that Matisse had exercised the greater influence through his teaching.

For more information, see:

Mæhle, Ole. Jens Thiis. En kunstens forkjemper. Oslo: Gylendal, 1970.

Thiis, Jens. Edvard Munch. Berlin: Rembrandt Verlag, 1934.

――. Leonardo da Vinci: The Florentine Years of Leonardo and Verrocchio. Translated by Jessie Muir. London: H. Jenkins, 1913.

Thiis, Jens, Carl Peterson and Sigurd Frosterus. Jubileumsutställningen i Göteborg, 1923, nordisk konst. Göteborg: Waldemar Zachrissons boktryckeri, 1923.

How to cite this entry:
Johnson, Samuel, "Thiis, Jens", The Modern Art Index Project (September 2018), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.