Albertine (Oslo’s honoured prostitute) and her lovers, clients, pimps

Albertine, by Alfred Seland, 1940s

This relief is sculpted into a corner of Oslo’s City Hall. Stories about what it represents vary, but Tourist Information in the city, as well as people who have written to me, confirm that the woman in the centre represents the protagonist of Christian Krohg’s novel Albertine, published in 1886. Albertine is a poor woman who takes up prostitution in the city’s old Vika district. The well-dressed man on the right is said to be a client. The difference of opinion amongst commentators revolves around the man on the left. Some say he is Albertine’s working-class sweetheart, and some say he is her pimp. As we know, he could be both, if by pimp we just mean that Albertine ever gave him some of the money she made. I haven’t read the novel so don’t make a guess myself.

We should perhaps be glad that no one has proposed that a sculpture representing not only a prostitute but her male companions be removed, since Norway has now legislated that paying for sex is a crime. Recently there was a fuss over whether the remains of Grisélidis Réal should be allowed interrment in Geneva’s Cimetière des Rois. They were, finally, but many people thought it was wrong, that no prostitute or sex worker ought ever to be honoured. Another statue to prostitutes stands in Oudekerksplein in Amsterdam’s red-light district.

Belle, by Els , 2007
Belle, by Els Rijerse , 2007

2 thoughts on “Albertine (Oslo’s honoured prostitute) and her lovers, clients, pimps

  1. Johan

    I just strolled past the City Hall this morning, and it struck me that Albertine is virtually the only woman depicted on its wall. The other statues I saw depicted male workers — a blacksmith, a carpenter, a fisher etc — at work, in a slightly sovietesque style. I’m not sure what to make of the message it seems to convey — that men are workers and women whores?

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