Erik Theodor Werenskjold (or Werenskiold) was born on February 11, 1865 in Eidskog, Norway, and he grew up to be a famous painter and illustrator, winning numerous awards and national status for lifetime achievement as an artist based in Norway. The work he is best known for includes the drawings that he made for a collection of stories titled "Norse Folklore", by Asbjørnsen and Moe, in addition to the Norwegian edition of the Snorri Sturlason Heimskringla illustrations that he produced. He gained notable recognition for the paintings that he composed of pastoral landscapes with figures of peasants. Werenskjold’s collection of portraits were numerous, and his sitters were usually famous Norwegians whom he’d met during his life.
He was the fourth son of the commander of the Konsvinger Fortress, and so he attended first the Kongsvinger national school, and from 1869 until 1872 he attended Aars og Voss’ skole, a private Latin school in Christiana. His talent was recognized by Adolph Tidemand, a painter who recommended that he be trained as an artist. That evaluation resulted in Werenskjold’s entry into an art college when he was 18 years old. He studied under Julius Middlethun, a Norwegian sculptor, in 1873 at the Drawing School in Christiana. A couple years later he trained in Axel Ender’s studio, but only for a few short months.
Werenskjold moved to Munich for four years, and in 1879 he attended an exhibition where the paintings by French en plein air artists, especially Charles-Francois Daubigny , impressed him. He considered the new style of painting outdoors to be much more superior than painting indoors, as most German artists would do. Unexpectedly, in 1880, Werenskjold experienced paralysis in his right arm, and it took a year of rehabilitation and recuperation in Switzerland before he recovered. In order to experience French art and French artists first hand, he lived in Paris from 1881 until 1883, but then he went back to Norway to spend the summer months there in 1883. From around 1884 to 1889 he remained in France, where he was taught by Leon Bonnat, before heading off to Florence and Rome.
When Werenskjold returned to Norway, he was given the opportunity to make illustrations of folk and fairy tales of Norwegian origin. He’d always been interested in doing those kinds of drawings, and was happy to work on Norske Folkeeventyr by Theodor Kittelsen in 1879 and on three volumes of Eventyrbog for Børn. Norske Folkeeventyr (1882-1887) for Asbjørnsen and Moe. He continued illustrating other works such as Snorre Sturlason’s King’s Sagas and Jonas Lie’s The Family at Gilje (1903).
In 1890, Werenskjold became Knight of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav, and his next national recognition came in 1905 with his appointment as Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav . Werenskjold was the recipient of the Norwegian national artist’s salary, starting in 1908 and continuing onwards. Other awards, by 1930, included his becoming a Commander of the Order of the Dannebrog and Commander of the 1st class; he received the much coveted Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1935.
Werenskjold was married to Sophie Marie Stoltenberg Thomesen, who was also a painter, and they had two sons together. His elder son, Werner, was a geologist, and his younger boy, Dagfin, was a sculptor. He lived out much of the remainder of his life in Norway, including his final days spent at Bærum, a town in Akershus county. Erik Werenskjold passed away on November 23, 1938, and was laid to rest in Oslo, at the Vår Frelsers gravlund.