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Aasta Hansteen

Gustav Vigeland gained a significant admirer in Aasta Hansteen (1824-1908) as early as his debut exhibition in 1894. She discovered a young artist with great talent, but as they got to know each other, she also grew fond of Vigeland as a person. Hansteen herself was a pioneer as the first woman in Norway to pursue a career as an artist and managed to sustain herself financially through it. However, over time, writing took precedence over painting, and she is best remembered as a writer and women's rights advocate.

Hansteen was known for her fearless contributions to the women's rights debate through her writings and speeches, although she was often misunderstood and ridiculed by society. She became a target and was marginalized as an eccentric women's rights advocate who was not taken seriously. This led her to travel to the USA in 1880, where she resided for nine years and actively participated in the American women's movement through lectures and writing.

Hansteen's admiration for Vigeland was particularly evident in a tribute poem published in the women's rights magazine Nylænde in 1895. She praised him as a genius artist with almost divine abilities. She maintained this enthusiasm even after Vigeland had established himself as an artist and received numerous commissions. In a letter from 1907, when the famous Abel monument was being cast, she praised his progress and wished him success in future projects.

The extent to which Vigeland was influenced by Hansteen's radical views is uncertain. However, he showed great interest and sympathy for her unique personality and life story. Despite gaining more respect in public over the years and being somewhat accepted, her controversial opinions, confrontational demeanor, and at times, lack of self-criticism still led to ridicule and mockery. It seems that these aspects of her personality intrigued Vigeland and were explored in his portraits of her.

Vigeland created several portraits of Hansteen. The oldest is a bust from 1901 was initiated by Vigeland himself, but left unfinished. Here, she is depicted with her head tilted backward, closed eyes, and a sense of quietness. In 1903, he made another bust, this time with Hansteen as a live model. This portrait shows her with a less introverted expression, portraying her old and worn face with a more forward posture and a direct gaze indicative of strength of will. The face is depicted with meticulous realism, bearing visible traces of adversity and lived experience. The sculpture was cast in bronze and erected on Hansteen's grave at Vår Frelsers gravlund in 1910.

Two years later, he created a statuette of Hansteen, depicting a woman leaning more towards the agitating women's rights advocate, wielding an umbrella in one hand, the other hand raised, and a face almost snarling at us. Here, we see a woman who is both on the offensive and in a defensive position, and one can easily imagine her becoming an easy target for caricature and ridicule.

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