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A chair used in gynaecological examinations back in the day. Women sat in these during the mandatory visitations. Photo: Marianne Nordahl. The photo used in the exhibition is on loan from the National Museum of Justice, Norway. The famous painting Albertine to see the Police Surgeon by Christian Krogh, which was first exhibited in The young woman Albertine is about to partake in the so-called visitation — which included a gynaecological examination — for the first time.
They look like bourgeois ladies, posing on chairs with fashionably arranged hair and their bustle gowns — but they are not high class gentlewomen. The photos are from an album dated and it was the vice department of the police in Kristiania Oslo which kept official tabs on these women. She points to the large painting comprising the central work in the exhibition — Albertine to see the Police Surgeon , which the Norwegian artist, journalist and author first exhibited on 11 March Albertine is apprehensive about the examination, as we can understand the young women we see in the police files when they were questioned and submitted to such a probe for the first time.
A law against prostitution was passed in Norway in , yet the authorities decided that men needed to have an outlet for their libidos before they wed. Another rule kept them off certain streets and parts of the city at designated times in the afternoon. These were the conditions that provoked Krogh and other radicals of the day. A debate about prostitution raged in the newspapers and Krogh did his bit to attack the hypocrisy through his novel and his painting.
His novel about Albertine was banned and led to litigation. Unabashed, he upped the ante by painting his protagonist Albertine outside the inspection room, and the scandalous picture was exhibited in Kristiania. The official records from what you could call the Kristiania Vice Squad reveal the women were not just poor lasses from greater Oslo — they were women from all over the country, north to south, who were desperate for work.
Many of them were newcomers to the city. The police protocols provide the data; their date and place of birth are listed. But some were also locals born in Kristiania. Initial visitation: Why women came so far and became prostitutes can be partly explained by contemporary Norwegian demographics and social developments.