Christian Cornelius (“Xan”) Krohn (born June 15, 1882 in Bergen, died October 30, 1959 in Oslo) was a Norwegian painter who worked for many years in Russia.
Background and work:
Krohn was a student at the Royal Art School from 1899 until 1902. His development continued in Helsinki, at the Finnish Association of Fine Arts, where he focused on sculpture and drawing. He then went to the capital of Imperial Russia, St. Petersburg, where from 1905 he studied at the prestigious Imperial Academy of Fine Arts; a letter of recommendation from Franz von Gebhardt brought him to Russia's celebrated 19th century master and member of the Academy Faculty, Ilya Repin, whose studio he began to frequent. During this time, Krohn was also working as a stonecutter on the architectural project for the reconstruction of the Swedish Lutheran church of Saint Catherine then being renovated in the Russian capital. In 1906, the political situation in Russia having resulted in the closure of the Academy of Fine Arts (for fear that it might provide a safe place for seditious activity), Krohn relocated to Munich, where he joined the academy of Simon Hollósy (1857-1918). After about a year, Krohn went on to Paris, where he threw himself with zeal into intense studies with a number of distinguished teachers, at Colarossi’s Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Having always been especially drawn to and intrigued by the theatre, Krohn now found himself truly in his element. In Paris, in its pre-war heyday, when the exuberant patronage of England’s effete, sophisticated bon vivant Kind Edward VII contributed to the international reputation of France’s capital as the paragon of innovation in style, ideas, fashions, creativity and social trends, Krohn explored the prevailing aesthetic, decorative and philosophical movements of the Belle Epoque while at the same time being bombarded with all the myriad artistic and dramatic inputs Paris — at the time, the undisputed Fine Arts Capital of the planet — had to offer.
While at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière, he met his future wife, also a student of the arts, the painter Julia de Holmberg (1882-1956). The daughter of Swedish-Russian aristocrats, she had been born in the ancient city of Kursk, a major Russian railway hub that was also famous for its rich cultural and folkloric heritage. They married at Christmas in 1907; Krohn’s wife introduced him to her extensive circle of Parisian friends in the art world, which included the painter and monotypist Elizaveta Kruglikova (a.k.a. ‘de Krouglicoff’, 1865-1941). Kruglikova subsequently introduced them to the great collector and impresario, Pyotr Shchukin, whose collection would become the basis of the Shchukin Museum.
In 1908, the Krohns moved to Kiev, at the time the so-called ‘third capital and cultural centre’ of Imperial Russia (and also the major city with the mildest climate).
On 20 December 1909, Russia’s renowned and influential “Mir Iskusstva” (“The Art World”) journal opened its Eighth Exhibition of Paintings, in the leading commercial and tourist city of Odessa, on the Black Sea. This marquee exhibition moved to Kiev on 13 April 1910, in time for the Easter season when springtime and the social calendar brought fresh energy each year. No fewer than 40 works by Krohn were included in this exhibition.
On 1 November 1911, Kiev’s Imperial Museum of Art, Industry and Science launched an exhibition entitled “Paintings by Christian and Julia Krohn,” comprising 102 works by Xan and 18 by Julia. Later that year, the entire exhibition traveled to Oslo. For the next three years, Krohn processed the implications and opportunities of his international footprint in the art world, at a time when rumblings in the political sphere as well as increasing intra-European tensions fuelled by Bismarck’s radical re-invention of Germany as a conquering empire in the middle of the Continent gave rise to an almost universal malaise in the highly politicised, hyper-sensitive artistic and intellectual cohort whose fortunes within Russia were so thoroughly dependent on the stability of the Russian state — that was soon to collapse into chaos and mayhem.
Kiev was becoming a problematic home for him, because the Krohns were not entirely like anyone else in their milieu, either as artists, or as citizens. They straddled many realms at once.
In 1912, the Russian avant-garde collective that called itself “Jack of Diamonds” (Bubnovy Valet) featured works by Krohn; a further 21 paintings of his appeared in their 1914 Moscow exhibitions.
In 1914, a number of Christian Krohn’s works were exhibited in a show by the Kievan avant-garde group, “the Ring” (Kol’tso). This concluded his public affiliation with Kiev; Krohn moved to Moscow, further from the western borders where the Great War was just beginning…
In 1917, revolution erupted in Russia. The government of Nicholas II fell by early March. The Krohns did not waste time dawdling in Russia; they were fortunate to get out quickly, moving to Oslo. That cannot have been an easy feat, given the extent of their possessions, the content of their studio, that they did not abandon. Yet, by January 1918, they were settled in Oslo, having initially made a tour of several countries both in Africa and Asia. There, Krohn painted many landscapes.
Having traveled so far afield, Krohn embraced traveling as an intellectual pursuit for the duration of his life, even after finally settling down in Oslo.
His work as an Artistic Director and Set Designer for the National Theatre of Norway added to his income, just as similar work in Moscow’s thriving pre-revolutionary theatre scene had helped him in earlier times.
Additionally, he undertook commissions as a sculptor. In 1925, he was commissioned to create the altarpiece for the Totenviken church in Oppland. It consists of two parts: a painting on glass depicting "Jesus Blessing the Little Children," and a fresco called“Jesus Establishes the Eucharist".
Christian Krohn’s art reflects many aspects of modern and post-modern schools of art. While the body of work centred on landscapes, he also created many striking portraits. Floral compositions also feature prominently in his oeuvre. His principal individual exhibitions were in Odessa, St. Petersburg and Kiev. He took part in many comprehensive shows with his contemporaries, in Riga as well as Moscow, Kiev, Oslo and Paris. Upon returning to Norway, Krohn exhibited with every leading art association in his native land.
There are also frescoes by Krohn in the Georgian museum in Tblisi.
In 1950, he published a memoir, En vagabonds vandring på jorden (“The Earthly Wanderings of a Vagabond”).
Xan was the son of Conrad Peter Krohn (1845-1903) and Ingeborg Severine Christine Krüger (1850-1910). The father was a ship’s captain in a family famous for its maritime service; his family hailed from Farsund. The artist’s parents divorced and the mother emigrated to the United States in 1885. His father emigrated to the United States in 1889, leaving the child in the care of an uncle. In 1907, he married the the artist Julie de Holmberg (1882-1956), a member of the Russian aristocracy of Swedish heritage, who was a Lutheran as he was.
Krohn had a son, Oleg Krohn (1914-1944) with the singer Sofia Trezvinskaya. They were able to join the rest of the family in Oslo, leaving Russia in 1923. Oleg became a distinguished Norwegian painter in his own right.
Oleg had a daughter, Sonja Krohn (born 1941), who is also a Norwegian painter.
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