Hats off to King Harald of Norway for his decision to grant a royal pardon to the artist Odd Nerdrum. The Norwegian master had been facing a year in jail for a conviction on tax charges. They followed on the discovery of funds held in a bank account out of the country. He’d reportedly argued that it was a reserve for compensating owners of a number of Nerdrum paintings that suffered from a failure of the medium with which the paint had been mixed. There were reports that Mr. Nerdrum might be prohibited from painting in prison.
“If we were the King of Norway,” we wrote in these columns early last year, “we’d require Nerdrum to paint.” Or, we added, “if he needs to be fined, to require him to make a masterpiece for the Kingdom’s holdings.” Harald didn’t take either of those steps, as far as we can tell from the dispatches. And it’s a feature of Norwegian pardon law that the king doesn’t explain himself. In any event, the pardon means, Mr. Nerdrum’s attorney said, that “he can continue painting as the free soul he is.”
We have no illusion that this is a major story outside of a few art enthusiasts, and we don’t belittle Norwegian tax law. What rivets us about Mr. Nerdum is the commitment at the center of his oeuvre to the standards and techniques of such titans as Rembrandt. There is a video of the master visiting the Rembrandt wing at the Hermitage, where he stops before the Danaë and grows aghast at the damage done some years earlier by an acid-throwing protester. A reminder that we need more of the great masters.