The Espolin Gallery – The story of Kaare Espolin Johnson

A chieftain within Norwegian art

The gallery is located at Storvågan, in Kabelvåg, and designed by architect Gisle Jakhelln, drawing inspiration from traditional Icelandic architecture (as Kaare Espolin Johnson had Icelandic roots). Inside the building’s many grand and magnificent halls, art takes center stage, presented in all its glory.

Storvågan is a destination in its own right. Here, you’ll also find Lofoten Museum, Lofoten Aquarium, and Nyvgår Rorbuhotell (Lofoten Ski Lodge). But more about that later. Now, lets focus on Kaare!

*All images by: Aurora Stenersen

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Kaare Espolin Johnson, a luminary among Norwegian artists, left an indelible mark on the canvas of history. Born on March 7, 1907, at the Vasseng farm in Surnadal, his creative journey took him from the northern reaches of Vadsø to the vibrant heart of Oslo. From an early age, Johnson’s artistic flair began to bloom, fueled by a special layering and scraping technique he developed, employing soot to create striking black and white masterpieces.

Debuting at the Autumn Exhibition in 1932, Johnson’s talent soon found a broader canvas as he contributed illustrations to the magazine Arbeidermagasinet. His gift for storytelling through art led to collaborations with renowned authors, breathing life into their literary works. Notably, his illustrations for Einar Kristoffer Aas and Peter Wessel Zapffe’s “Vett og Uvett” (Sense and Nonsense: Short Stories from Troms and Nordland) remained an enduring source of joy for him.

However, it was his fascination with the northern Norwegian fishing life that became the cornerstone of his artistic expression. From the coastal communities to the rural landscapes, his subjects were imbued with the essence of the region’s spirit. Notably, his illustrations for Sigbjørn Hølmebakk’s “Fimbulvinter” (The Great Winter), Regine Normann’s “Ringelihorn og andre eventyr” (Ringelihorn and Other Tales), and Johan Bojer’s “Den siste viking” (The Last Viking) capture the essence of Northern Norway’s soul.

Beyond the illustrations

Johnson’s artistic prowess extended beyond the pages of books. His celebrated works adorned the Coastal Express vessel MS Harald Jarl, with motifs borrowed from Petter Dass’s “Nordlands Trompet.” These remarkable paintings found a new home aboard the MS Trollfjord when the MS Harald Jarl was sold.

Over the years, Johnson’s passion for his art never waned. In 1992, during an interview with NRK TV for the opening of the Espolin Gallery, he expressed his utmost pleasure in illustrating “Vett og Uvett” and “Den siste viking.” The Baroque humor of “Vett og Uvett” struck a chord with him, making it a joyous undertaking. His creations and contributions earned him the prestigious Nordland County Culture Prize in 1990, solidifying his position as a cherished artistic luminary.

A lasting impact

Throughout Norway, 39 of Johnson’s artworks find a home in the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design, a testament to his lasting impact on the country’s cultural heritage.

From his humble beginnings to becoming a celebrated artist, Kaare Espolin Johnson’s artistic journey resonates with art lovers and admirers alike. His legacy lives on at the Espolin Gallery, a place where the grandeur of Lofoten’s landscape melds with the artistry of its people.

Join us on a timeless voyage through the captivating world of Kaare Espolin Johnson, where each brushstroke tells a tale of longing, resilience, and the enduring beauty of Northern Norway.

Finding inspiration.

As you walk around the gallery, stop and reflect. There’s so much inspiration to be extracted here. Espolin has inspired countless of creatives, which is a testament to all his dedication.


The gallery is part of “SKREI”. It includes the aquarium and museum mentioned earlier. You can buy a combination ticket that includes all three attractions. And if you’re hungry, check out Nyvågar Rorbuhotel. They offer both lunch and dinner, made with local ingredients, and they even have their own aquavit bar!