The Inspirational Propaganda Art of Harald Damsleth

harald-damsleth-photo-portraitHarald Damsleth (August 16, 1906 – March 1, 1971)

Harald Damsleth was born in August 16, 1906 in Bremen. His father, engineer Olaf Martinius Damsleth (1878-1957) was a Norwegian and his mather Katharina Elise Foss (1878-1917) was a German. His father soon returned to Norway to work at Fredrikstad Mekaniske Verksted, whereas young Harald lived with his mother until the age of eleven. Upon his mother’s death in 1917, Harald Damsleth moved to Norway with his godfather, bank director Erling Sandberg. During a study tenure in Germany from 1929 to 1931, Damsleth met the German citizen Liselotte Friedmann, whom he engaged to marry.

During his younger days, Damsleth became primarily a professional in the field of advertising. The idyllic romantic illustrations he produced for national tourism agencies made him very popular. From 1931 to 1938 he worked, for the most part, as a freelancer with advertising agencies such as Høydahl Ohme and Myres Annoncebyrå. Damsleth also designed book covers for many publishers including H. Aschehoug & Co., JW Cappelens Editore, NW Damm & Its, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, PF Steensballe Bøgh, Steenske Editore and Windju Simonsens Editore. By that time Damsleth had an ‘international focus’ and constantly sought inspiration outside of Norway. For the most part of 1933 he worked in the United States with Foster & Co. In 1939 Damsleth returned to the U.S. for the decoration of the Norwegian Pavilion at the World Expo in New York. He was offered a permanent position in the Walt Disney industry in Los Angeles but he declined in favour of moving back to Oslo with his family to work in an advertising agency called Herolden.

By this time Damsleth became a Norwegian nationalist. His illustrations were inspired by the Norwegian scenery and healthy, blonde people (Arne Skouen once described him as a ‘specialist on Aryan facial traits’) though these ideals were not atypical for the time. On the other hand, he was to a certain degree, inspired by modernist art. He was involved in Fedrelandslaget for some time, and joined Nasjonal Samling, the Norwegian Nationalist Party lead by Vidkun Quisling, in its foundation year 1933.

Norway was invaded by Germany in 1940, and occupied for the following five years. Erling Sandberg was eventually appointed to Josef Terboven’s Council of State, and Harald Damsleth began receiving assignments for public services institutions. Harald Damsleth gained a prestigious name for himself during the German occupation. His posters were printed in enormous quantities and hung everywhere, from train stations to markets. This propaganda had a huge impact at a national level, so much so that Damsleth’s style became immediately associated with the war effort and the Vidkun Quisling’s government. From April 1940 to May 1945 Damsleth was assigned a huge production of not only large amounts of illustrations for newspapers, magazines, postcards, cinema commercials, medals, propaganda leaflets, etc, but also all designs for the Norwegian stamps of the era. During this time he also produced works related to trade fairs and exhibitions. In 1944 he created the famous poster Liberators, also known in another version as Kultur-Terror, reproduced in the Netherlands by the magazine Leest Storm SS. As an addition Damsleth also became a war reporter for the Waffen SS, and had a stay in the Eastern Front in 1942.

In May 8, 1945 Germany capitulated. At the end of the war Damsleth was processed on May 15, 1945 but he pleaded not guilty of treason. But in 1950, Damsleth was sentenced to five years of hard labor for ‘treason’ committed during World War II for his ‘collaboration with the Germans’. He was eventually pardoned after two years of serving that sentence. Very regrettably by that time many of his original works had been destroyed, damaged or stolen and today there are fewer than 40 identified original works from his pre-war era.

After the War, Damsleth returned to politically neutral work. By 1947 he managed to get a contract with publisher Børrehaug & Co. illustrating book covers and postcards, including many with nisse motifs. His book covers ranged from Christian books to pulp novels such as Maigret, Rocambole, Coyote and James Bond. He also designed collection items called glansbilder. By the end of his career he also experimented with psychedelic art. Many of his previous clients avoided working with him as he became demonized by the Norwegian art establishment, to the point of having to use another signature to sign his works. Even in this period of his life Damsleth became exceptionally productive.

Harold Damsleth died on March 1, 1971, at age 64.

Afterthought

Harald Damsleth was a very versatile artist whose career spanned for more than four decades. In spite of all the post-war slandering against him he left a deep footprint in the cultural history of Norway. Apart from a few posters in the Military Museum ‘Norsk Forsvarsmuseum’ in Oslo, not many works by Damsleth are to be found in other art galleries, that is because Damsleth is still considered a ‘traitor’ due to his work as a graphic designer and political supporter of National Socialism during the thirties and forties. Many Norwegian art encyclopedias do not include his biography, let alone make any reference to his name. Despite a vast work produced in a 40 year career span containing over 5,000 paintings, posters and other images, there are no academic studies about Damsleth; absolutely nothing save for the excellent cataloging work done by W. Schulze on his site dedicated to the artist.

Damsleth’s body of work did not only exclusively have the character of political propaganda; far from it. Many other works of graphic art such as children’s books, Christmas and Yule postcards, telecommunications programs, boxes, etc, bore his distinctive graphic style. For some years there has been a renewed appreciation of the artistic qualities, historical and cultural values represented in his work. This has led to a steady increase of collectors, together with a growth of interest in his art and the inevitable rise in auction prices for his works. A comprehensive overview of Damsleth’s beautiful work is contained in the book Damsleth: Han teikna for Norge av Einar Økland published by Vigmostad og Bjørke in 2008. The luxurious volume is written in Norwegian but that should not deter the buyer from purchasing it. Damsleth’s graphic works speak the eternal language of beauty which the artist was able to masterfully represent in the course of his existence.

As a final word; overlooking Harald Damsleth’s artistic contribution one wonders, with a certain degree of nostalgic sadness, what it could all have been if Germany had not been defeated in the war, also how much was lost in the whole process. But artists such as Harald Damsleth (like his German counterpart Ludwig Hohlwein) still project an inspirational vision in our minds, a vision of things that could return someday.

 

Nasjonal Samling posters & related works

harald-damsleth-8-riksmote-norges-nyreising harald-damsleth-8-borrestevne-ved-kongegravene-i-nasjonalparkenharald-damsleth-10-ars-kamp-for-forer-folk-og-fredelandharald-damsleth-borgartinget-1942harald-damsleth-det-er-grotid-i-norge-bli-med-i-n-s-u-fharald-damsleth-entern-eller-mediumharald-damsleth-gjennom-kamp-og-arbeidharald-damsleth-heim-aett-fredelandharald-damsleth-heimens-forskole-mediumharald-damsleth-hvad-norge-var-nasjonal-samling-1933-43-mediumharald-damsleth-kjemp-med-hirdenharald-damsleth-med-nordmenn-for-norge-mediumharald-damsleth-mot-bolsjevisme-og-pengeveldeharald-damsleth-mot-lysere-tider-towards-the-brighter-timesharald-damsleth-n-s-u-f-vinterleker-1941harald-damsleth-nei-mediumharald-damsleth-nordmannafolket-utstilling-pa-skansenharald-damsleth-norge-kaller-nasjonal-samlingharald-damsleth-norges-nyreising-1harald-damsleth-norges-nyreising-2harald-damsleth-norsk-frontharald-damsleth-portrait-of-vidkun-quislingharald-damsleth-norsk-front-mot-landets-fiender-mediumharald-damsleth-sto-kursharald-damsleth-svarthandleren-rotten-som-gnager-pa-samfunnetharald-damsleth-ungdommens-sommerleker-1942harald-damsleth-var-sak-er-din-sakharald-damsleth-ungdom-bli-medharald-damsleth-vi-vil-oss-et-land-medium

 

WWII Posters and graphics

harald-damsleth-den-norske-skijegerbataljonharald-damsleth-kampf-um-norwegen-1940harald-damsleth-germanske-ss-norgeharald-damsleth-kjemp-for-alt-hvad-du-har-kjaertharald-damsleth-mot-bolsjevismen-mediumharald-damsleth-ss-mesterskapet-mediumharald-damsleth-var-aere-er-troskap-mediumharald-damsleth-nasjonalsocialistiske-kjempere-klar-til-kampharald-damsleth-ss-dagen-1943-2harald-damsleth-ss-skijegerbataljon-norgeharald-damsleth-nordemenn-kjemp-for-norgeharald-damsleth-tapper-og-tro

 

Anti-Marxist and Anti-American propaganda

harald-damsleth-kultur-terrorharald-damsleth-sommerens-gleder
harald-damsleth-aeresfanenharald-damsleth-whats-coming-mediumharald-damsleth-sommerens-gleder

 

Advertising and other commercial illustrations

harald-damsleth-halogaland-mediumharald-damsleth-tyskland-den-skapende-nasjon-medium

harald-damsleth-oslo-craft-and-industries-exhibition-1938harald-damsleth-store-tyske-romaner-mediumharald-damsleth-glott-av-norgeharald-damsleth-glott-av-norge-1937-mediumharald-damsleth-mikkel-maler-mediumharald-damsleth-juleol-3

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Published in: on November 24, 2016 at 11:10 am  Leave a Comment  

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