On this page you can see 10 smaller paintings of elephants that
were begun about 2 years ago. I am especially fascinated by the
Since my childhood elephants have seemed to me to be the most
beautiful of nature’s animals. Its size alone and its
unbelievably beautiful head with the long trunk. Since my
childhood in Africa the elephant has been the animal I prize
most. If one compares the tiger with the elephant, as I have
done in my paintings of the two animals, they are complementary
to one another. During a two-year stay in Helsingfors/Helsinki
in 1985 I visited the Finnish Zoological Museum regularly, where
I studied their unique collection of animal skeletons. It was a
great experience to see and draw these animal skeletons. It was
especially the skeletons of the tiger and the elephant that
fascinated me, because they were animals I was already busy
painting. It is worth mentioning that the following year I
exhibited at the Frie Exhibition Gallery with the artists group
Violet Sun, with a whole gallery full of 2 metre tall paintings
of animal skeletons. Many were shocked at this and thought I was
morbidly fixated on death. The fact was that I was trying to get
inside the animal itself. The inspiration for this was from the
great English animal painter, George Stubbs (1724-1806), who is
best known for his horse paintings, but who has also made many
studies of the horse’s skeleton. To be able to understand how a
horse stood on its legs, how the head rested on the neck and all
the other physical things that a painter has to understand if he
is to be successful at painting an animal.
He is said to have got a dead tiger from a circus. He got it
home and made extensive drawings of the animal’s anatomy and
skeleton. These have later been used by students of zoology, so
precisely had they been drawn. Making these skeleton studies in
Finland brought a new addition to my painting, it altered my
conception of the animals concerned. Before this I imagined the
elephant to be a big lump of flesh, and not a mammal with a
skeleton like other animals. Especially the skull caught my
attention, but not least the feet, because they were so
different to the idea I had of them previously. Similarly it
turned out that the tiger’s skeleton was identical to the lion’s
and the leopard’s, the only difference was the size. After these
skeleton studies I have looked at animals I painted in a
different way, because I understand what their movements and
physical build are like. It gives me a freedom to paint my
compositions as I know what is inside the skin of the animals.
Skeleton of a tiger and an elephant
In these two drawings of a tiger and elephant
skeleton, you can see the difference between the shape of the
skull and several other bones. However, both are mammals and
therefore have the same bones as we humans also have. From an
artist’s point of view the tiger is a wild object to paint in
contrast to the large calm shape of the elephant.
I paint the tiger and its stripes with long coloured strokes. In
a way it has a visible skeleton, where the stripes are its ribs.
This gives the tiger a certain volume on the canvas.
These light and dark stripes also give an impression of a
dynamic creature, expressing power and savagery. It is
accentuated by the colours, which contribute to expressing the
animals psyche. On the other hand I paint the elephant’s volume
with a single colour, which gives it exactly the right shape,
while thinking about how the animal has been created. Thus it is
not only the contour that I perceive, - that would give a hollow
impression, but the whole elephant. This helps to give the
colour the correct extent on the canvas. With these pictures I
experienced that if the proportions of the elephant were not
correct, then the colour did not work in relation to the other
colours. That gave a false colour base compared to the colour
base which arose when the shape was correct.
You can see the same phenomenon in the icons from the early
Renaissance, called the Sienna School. It is obvious that they
too worked with these universal problems concerning shape and
colour. So each time you dive inside the painting and discover
something new, you have the joy of having one’s gains confirmed
in another branch of art. Used in a completely different context,
Just as the study of animal skeletons alters one’s conception of
how animals function, it is also important to find the
‘skeleton’ of the picture to understand art.
In Avignon there is a very large collection of icons from the
Sienna School which I have studied assiduously.
Elephants, mother and child.
46 x 38 cms. 2002.
Elephants, facing each way. 46 x 65 cms 2002
No.4 Elefant, rød og
blå. 46 x 65 cm. 2002.
Elephant 46 x 33 cms 2002
Elefant, fremadstormende. 65 x 54 cm. 2002.j
Elephant, ochre 50 x 50 cms 2002
Elephant with killed tiger 54 x 65 cms
No.5 Elefant, elefantasi. 33 x 46 cm. 2002
10. Elephant, reflection 81 x 54 cms 2002