The Home of Norwegian Coronations and the Celebration of Artistic Royal Patronage

Norway’s fourth city is beautifully located in the heart of the fjords. It’s elegant and historic, and home to royal coronations…

Xander Brett

Trondheim may be Norway’s fourth city, but it’s a cultural capital that pushes above its 200,000 inhabitants. I’ve flown down from Tromsø: a cold, remote gateway to the Arctic. Outside the cathedral in Trondheim, though, American tourists sigh at an exterior more befitting of European cities further south. This is the home of Norwegian coronations (before years of occupation), and now – with the coronations phased out – of benedictions (the last in 1991, when King Harald V took charge after the death of his father, Olav V). I tour the Kunstmuseum, which now hosts outposts across the city, take a stroll through the cathedral (the city’s undisputed focal point) and head for a picnic lunch on the water, near the shops of Solsiden.

I’m staying at the historic Hotel Britannia, a five-star institution on Dronningensgate, right in the centre of town: the city is surrounded by water on three sides and looks out to sea. My space – a deluxe 1897 room – is large, there’s a vast spa complex in the basement (with a swimming pool, sauna and treatment rooms), and upstairs on the first floor, breakfast is served in the light, spacious Palmehaven, with a comprehensive buffet complemented by an omelette chef and on-tap dishes, cooked to order in the kitchen. This hotel was founded in 1870 and, though not as old as its wooden cobbles and Edinburgh-esque stone surroundings, stands as testament to the calm relaxation of this ancient regional centre. It’s no Oslo or Bergen, nor is it a Tromsø or Stavanger. Instead, Trondheim sits alone as a spiritual Norwegian royal home.

Royalty, this month, has been the centre of conversation here. On Monday 4th July, HM Queen Sonja of Norway (wife of King Harald V) celebrated her 85th birthday. It comes just a few weeks after Princess Ingrid Alexandra (second in line) celebrated her 18th birthday. After over fifty years in the royal family – as crown princess and queen consort – Sonja shows no signs of slowing, either professionally or personally. When it comes to the visual arts, indeed, for Sonja there’s no distinction between the professional and the private. A printmaker, she held exhibitions in 2011 and 2013 with artists Kjell Nupen and Ørnulf Opdahl. That follows the establishment of her music prize in 1988, and precedes the reconfiguration of the Royal Palace stables, to accommodate what’s now the Queen Sonja Art Stable. Elsewhere in Oslo, part of her sitting for Andy Warhol, when Sonja was crown princess, can be seen at the Nasjonalmuseet and Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art. With engagements in Oslo, Norway’s vast bank of art and artists means Sonja is also frequently sent abroad to open exhibitions: most recently in London and Paris, for key shows on the work of Edvard Munch, Nikolai Astrup and Harald Sohlberg.

On Monday 20th June, I attended the biannual Queen Sonja Print Awards in Oslo. Hosted by actor Kåre Conradi, and held at the Munch Museum, it saw Queen Sonja present three distinctions: to the winner, Franco-Moroccan Yto Burrata, to the winner of an ‘Inspirational Award’, Meerke Laimi Thomasson Vekterli, and to the winner of a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’, South African William Kentridge. Invited frequently on stage (at one point even dancing), and arriving unceremonially for drinks beforehand, Sonja’s excitement shone through. Clearly, she’s passionate not only for her own art, but for the art of others. With nominees flying in for the two-day event, the QSPA has now expanded to include a residency in Helsinborg, Sweden, and Sonja will be back to talk to delegates at the Nasjonalmuseet the next day. The award began in 2011: the same year Sonja started the Queen Sonja Nordic Art Award. I sit next to an NRK documentary team, putting together a tribute for her birthday. There’s surely no better place, I think, than here: a tribute to Sonja’s determination to support and inspire ambitious artists on the international art scene.

Extracts of this article have also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.

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