Ibsen’s childhood in Skien

Henrik Ibsen is one of the world’s best-known and most performed playwrights. He was born on 20 March 1828 in Stockmanngården – the Stockmann Building – right on what is now Skien’s Handelstorget square.

Stockmann-gården. Photo: Telemark Museum.

Henrik was born into a privileged position, with both parents – Knud and Marichen (née Altenburg) – coming from patrician families that belonged to the town’s ruling elite. However, the Ibsen family was not immune to the recession of the 1820s and 1830s. In 1835, the family moved to their summer house, Venstøp, 5 kilometres north of Skien. In the autumn of 1843, they moved again, to Snipetorp, while the 15-year-old Henrik Ibsen travelled aboard the Lykkens Prøve to Grimstad, where he was apprenticed to a apothecary. It was while he was living there that he wrote his first play. Henrik spent a few weeks with his family in the summer of 1845 and visited again in 1850 on his way to begin his studies in Christiania, modern-day Oslo. After this, there is no evidence that Henrik Ibsen ever visited Skien again.

In the autobiographical fragment Henrik Ibsen 1828–1888: Et literært Livsbillede [Henrik Ibsen 1828–1888: A literary life portrait], Ibsen relates some of his childhood memories of an “exceedingly happy and sociable town”. The entire autobiographical fragment can be read [in Norwegian] in Henrik Ibsens skrifter, an exhaustive collection of Ibsen’s writings and literary research.

A fire in 1886 left the town centre in ruins, and the Skien that had made an impression on Henrik Ibsen as a child was lost. The only authentic built environment that survives from Henrik Ibsen’s childhood can be found in the Snipetorp district. Ibsen’s childhood home at Venstøp is now a museum.