The painter Hans Gjesme was born in Lærdal on 11 May 1904. He developed an interest in drawing early on, and his schoolbooks were filled with sketches illustrating fairy tales, historical events and Bible stories. As early as the age of 16 Gjesme travelled to Kristiania (later Oslo) to study under Pola Gauguin, who was extremely pleased with his student’s efforts and rapid progress. In 1925 Gjesme embarked on a study tour to Paris, where he eventually began to study under André Lhote.
Gjesme’s debut took place at the 1926 Vestlandsutstillingen exhibition, where he was represented with a landscape painting and an interior painting. His paintings received good reviews in the newspaper Bergens Tidende. Later reviews were more mixed, but Gjesme nevertheless continued to hold both solo and group exhibitions every year. He was accepted as an exhibitor in the prestigious Annual Autumn Exhibition in Oslo in 1932. Gjesme’s style was naturalistic, and his principal motifs were landscapes and the people of Lærdal. He was skilled at drawing, and created many characteristic portraits of his family and friends. He portrayed the distinctive landscape of Lærdal, with its steep cliffs flanking the village, in a variety of light conditions and in different seasons of the year. Gjesme also made plaster sculptures, and sought commissions for monumental decorations, unfortunately with no success. At a solo exhibition in Bergen, in 1939, he was criticised for using too wide a variety of techniques and motifs.
Gjesme suffered from mental health issues, and was admitted to Gaustad Hospital in Oslo. He remained there for 16 years before returning to Lærdal in 1971. As an older man Hans Gjesme finally gained recognition for his work. He regularly received visits from fellow artists, journalists and art historians who wanted to see his collection. In 1977 Gjesme opened his largest exhibition at Kunstnernes Hus in Oslo. On that occasion art critic Arne Durban wrote: “Now, at long last, Hans Gjesme has arrived in the art community of the country’s capital.” Gjesme died in Lærdal in 1994.