Norway was for many decades one of the poorest countries in Europe, and the most important export articles were timber and dried white fish.
Very few people could afford other goods than basic necessities like food, clothing and shelter. After some big oil discoveries in the early 60’s, Norwegians could afford to spend money on culture, art and travel. The selection of goods wasn’t too good so many people purchased identical items – like Norwegian-made pottery, china dishes and reproduced paintings. Today, these vintage art products are highly prized in both auctions and secondhand shops.
If you ask any Norwegian (born before 1980), what they recall from their grandparents house when it comes to paintings, many will answer ‘The Gipsy Girl’.
The reason is that ‘every’ Norwegian home owned a ‘Gipsy Girl’ painted by Hungarian-born Charles Roka (Róka Károly, 1912-1999). Roka moved to Norway in 1937, after having attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest followed by an ‘educational journey’ across Europe to learn more about other cultures and behaviors.
The painter studied for one year at the Academy of Art in Oslo, and in 1939 he painted his first ‘Gipsy Girl’. The picture shows a half-naked girl he met in Marseille a couple of years earlier. Her name and origin is unknown. There are several variations of the paintings; different girls, positions and how much they reveal of their bodies, but the paintings all have the same voice, the same brush strokes and colors. They show exotic, pin-up models wearing loose blouses and big red skirts. In addition he also painted sentimental pictures of children with their puppies. Roka was very influenced by Hungarian folklore, especially csárdás, a traditional gipsy folk dance.
Roka got rich from his paintings, but his personal life was no big success. In his present, other painters hated him for his mass-production. But the public loved him, which is shown in his numerous exhibitions in Madrid, Barcelona, Lausanne and several other European cities. In 2003, Haugar Kunstmuseum in Tønsberg, Vestfold, was the first Norwegian gallery to show a separate collection of 80 of his paintings. The exhibition was named ‘The Prince of Kitsch’.
In 1982, Mr. Roka was exposed to illness, and he had to stop painting. He lived a quiet life until his death in 1999.
Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews
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