Rose-painting, rosemaling, rosemåling or rosmålning is a Scandinavian decorative folk painting that flourished from the 1700s to the mid-19th century, particularly in Norway. In Sweden, rose-painting began to be called dalmålning, c. 1901, for the region where it had been most popular and kurbitsmålning (kurbits), in the 1920s, for a characteristic trait, but in Norway the old name still predominates beside terms for local variants. Rose-painting was used to decorate church walls and ceilings. It then spread to wooden items commonly used in daily life, such as ale bowls, stools, chairs, cupboards, boxes, and trunks. Using stylized ornamentation made up of fantasy flowers, scrollwork, fine line work, flowing patterns and sometimes geometric elements give rose-painting its unique feel. Some paintings may include landscapes and architectural elements. Rose-painting also utilizes other decorative painting techniques such as glazing, spattering, marbleizing, manipulating the paint with the fingers or other objects. Regional styles of rose-painting developed, and some varied only slightly from others, while others may be noticeably distinct.
Etymology and terminology
The term derives from ros, applied decoration or embellishment, decorative, decorated [rosut, rosute, rosete, rosa] and å male, to paint. The first element can also be interpreted as a reference to the rose flower, but the floral elements are often so stylized that no specific flower is identifiable, and are absent in some designs.
In Sweden the style was traditionally called rosmålning, with cupboard decorations said to be utkrusat i rosmålning or krusmålning. In the 20th century the terms dalamålning or dalmålning and kurbitsmålning came into common use. Dalamålning refers to Dalarna, with which the style is particularly associated;  the term appeared around 1901. Kurbits originally derived from the Latin Cucurbita, and refers to a long-bodied gourd. The poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt, who wrote about the painted wall hangings of Dalarna, popularized the term in the 1920s, particularly in his 1927 poem "Kurbitsmålning".
History in Norway
Rosemaling in Norway originated in the lowland areas of eastern Norway, particularly in the Telemark, Valdres, Hallingdal, Numedal, Setesdal, Gudbrandsdalen, and in other valleys in Vest-Agder, Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane, and Rogaland. It came into existence in the early 1700s, when Baroque and Rococo artistic styles of the upper class were introduced into Norway's rural culture. Regional styles of rosemaling developed, and some varied only slightly from others, while others may be noticeably distinct. Rosemaling's popularity declined by the mid-19th century.
Rosemaling designs use C and S strokes and feature scroll and flowing lines, floral designs, and both subtle and vibrant colors. Script lettering, scenes, animal and human figures may also be included. Artists who specialized in rosemaling often came from poorer classes in the countryside. They would travel from county to county painting churches, homes and furnishings for a commission of either money or merely room and board. Thus rosemaling was carried over the mountains and toward Norway's western coast. Once farther away from the influence of the painters' guild, these artists tried new ideas and motifs. Rosemaling became widespread as amateur artists in rural areas often imitated this folk art. Soon strong regional styles developed and today the three main styles are Telemark, Hallingdal and Rogaland, named after the regions in which each originated.
Rosemaling is, in a sense, the two-dimensional counterpart of acanthus carving, since it is clear that the C and S curves in rosemaling take their inspiration from the acanthus carvings of Baroque and Rococo art and the acanthus carvings in the rural churches (for example the altar reredoses and pulpits) and homes (for example cupboards) were painted in the same bright colors as used in rosemaling. While in the cities these acanthus carvings were generally gilded, the rural artisans did not have ready access to gold leaf as their urban counterparts and so painted their carvings in the bright colors whose popularity in rural communities is seen also in the traditional Norwegian rural dress, the bunad. Like rosemaling, acanthus carving has had a cultural revival in recent times as both a means of interior design (for example, on furniture, picture frames, and door and window frames) and as a personal hobby, although most modern acanthus carving is left unpainted and unvarnished.
An anecdote about the Nazi occupation of Norway (1940–1945) is that at a time when the public display of the Norwegian flag or the State Coat of Arms could bring imprisonment or even death, the Norwegians discovered that they could display the 'H' overlapping the '7' of the Royal cypher of their exiled king, Haakon VII, at the center of a rosemaling design without the German occupation forces seeing anything but a colorful peasant design. Christmas cards with the Royal cypher at the center of a rosemaling design were especially popular; many have survived and their history documented.
History in Sweden
In Sweden, it is a style of painting featuring light brush strokes and depictions of gourds, leaves, and flowers, used especially in the decoration of furniture and wall hangings, and was adopted by both artists and artisans in rural Sweden, reaching its greatest popularity in the latter half of the 18th century.
The tradition of painted wall hangings in the style was fully developed around 1820. The paintings were done by itinerant painters, most from Dalarna, whose signatures can be found in many localities. The artists learned it as a trade or handicraft from one another, and copied each other's works; some pieces have been found copied more than 140 times. Artists also used stamps to create small details in patterns. Those from the Rättvik school of art were more likely to add spontaneous leaves and flowers, breaking up the symmetry of their pieces. Many of the paintings also included a zig-zag pattern at the bottom of the painting, called ullvibården after the village of Ullvi. Scenes were based on Bible illustrations, with people and buildings rendered in the then current styles. The gourds reference a Biblical legend about Jonah sitting beneath a gourd; the gourd symbolizes vegetal fertility. The most common themes of kurbit art are the wedding at Cana, Jonah preaching, the entry of the Queen of Sheba, the three wise men, Jesus riding into Jerusalem, the story of Joseph, the ten virgins, the crowning of Salomon, and the vineyard.
The style is widely found in the regions of Dalarna and southern Norrland, and today kurbits can refer to the painting of furniture, tapestry, Dala horses, or Swedish folk painting as a general concept. On the Dala horse, a gourd is used to indicate the saddle.
Kurbits artists include Winter Carl Hansson of Yttermo and Back Olof Andersson, who painted in 1790-1810.
The kurbits style was used in the candidate city logo of the Stockholm-Åre bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, forming the year "2026".
History in America
Norwegian immigrants brought the art of rosemaling to the United States. The art form experienced a revival in the 20th century as Norwegian-Americans became interested in the rosemaling-decorated possessions of their ancestors. The prominent rosemaling artist Per Lysne, who was born in Norway and emigrated to Wisconsin, was trained in the craft. Lysne is often considered the father of rosemaling in the U.S. This revival began reaching its peak in the 1960s and continued through the 1980s. In the late 1960s, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa began bringing Norwegian rosemalers to the U.S. to hold classes. The style's popularity boomed in the U.S., even among non-Norwegians. Other classes can be found throughout the country, especially in areas where Norwegians settled.
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- Diane Edwards, Design Basics for Telemark Rosemaling, self-published, Alamosa, Colorado, 1994, ISBN 978-1463734756
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Media related to Rosemaling at Wikimedia Commons