The blog today features the very talented nineteenth century Swedish female landscape and portrait painter, Julia Augusta Lovisa Beck.
Julia Beck was born in Stockholm on December 20th 1853. Her father, Franz Beck, was a German immigrant from the Rhineland-Palatinate who had set himself up as a successful bookbinder. Her mother was Charlotte Julia Beck (née Carlsson). She had a brother, Johan Viktor, who was one year older than her. Viktor helped out at his father’s workshop and would later become part of the father’s bookbinding business, whereas Julia concentrated on her painting. She initially enrolled on courses in wood engraving and decorative painting at the local Slöjdskolan (School of handicraft). When she was eighteen years old she became a student at the Konstakademie, the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm and enrolled in a five-year state-run art course. It had only been since eight years before that the Academy had begun to accept female students and she was assigned to the Ladies Section which although the tutors were the same as those who taught the male students, the females had fewer lectures and were taught in a different building. She and her fellow female art students, known as the “painter-girls” mixed with the male students and Julia was instrumental in setting up a student society and a student newspaper, Palettskrap.
For aspiring young artists the place to be was Paris, which had taken on the mantle of the leading art centre of Europe. Julia wasted no time after completing her course at the Academy to travel to Paris to avail herself of the best art tuition and in 1880 she had great success when she had her self portrait exhibited at the annual Salon de Paris, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts. The painting depicting her in a plumed hat was admired for its depth of colour and realistic depiction.
In 1881 Julia Beck, who was then twenty-eight years old, enrolled at the Académie Julian where she received tuition from Léon Bonnat and Jean Léon Gérôme. The Académie Julian was one of the the main art establishment in Paris that accepted female students. The other state-run art establishments in Paris did not accept women as students until the 1890s. The influential École des Beaux-Arts did not begin admitting women until 1897. From studying under those two much-heralded artists she left the Académie Julian and went to study at the school run by the Belgian artist, Alfred Stevens.
Julia Beck shared spacious lodgings in Paris with four Scandinavian painters, the Swedish painters, Hildegard Thorell, Anna Norstedt and Elizabeth Keyser and the Norwegian, Harriet Backer. Like many artists of the time who were living and studying in Paris, Julia liked to spend time in the tranquillity of the rural environment which could be found to the south of the capital. The small village of Barbizon, near the Forest of Fontainebleau, was popular with artists between 1830 and 1870 who were looking for something different from the formalism of Academic training and sought creativeness directly from nature and suddenly scenes of nature became the subject of paintings rather than simply an add-on backdrop.
Julia was one of the first Scandinavian artists to visit another artist colony, twenty kilometres south of Barbizon, at Grez sur Loing. It was the rural village, which was to attract many American and Scandinavian painters, including many of the Skagen artists.
In one of Margie White’s excellent blogs, American Girls Art Club in Paris…and Beyond, she talks about the attraction of the artists’ colony:
“…Grez became a popular summer travel destination for American artists in Paris after a train station and a new hotel were built. In 1860. Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot’s painting View of the Loing at Grez (1850-60) may have worked like a Grez travel poster, inducing many art students to come and try to paint it themselves. Word about Grez circulated through the Academie Julian in Paris as well as Carolus-Duran’s studio…’
Julia Beck completed a painting featuring the area entitled Gréz zur Nemours in 1885. It was a good example of the work she favoured at that time. She often depicted glistening water reflections in a romantic grey-scale which reflected verdant trees in full leaf and occasionally the odd birds but rarely do people feature in her landscapes. It was all about her love for nature and how she captured it during periods of ever-changing light during various times of the day and the differing seasons. There was a kind of meditative atmosphere to her depictions achieved by her choice of colours. There is a definite hint of Impressionism, which we saw in the work of Claude Monet. In the foreground, we see reeds and foliage depicted in a style similar to that seen in Japanese and Chinese art, which was very popular in Europe at the time.
If we study her work we can see she has carefully examined the rural lands of the area both at dusk and dawn and by doing so saw how the light from the sun and the shadows differed immensely. She had a special attraction to depicting motionless waters with verdant backdrops. She liked to depict how the light fell on the water of slow-moving rivers and lakes. There can be no doubt she was influenced and stimulated by the paintings of the Impressionist artists. Her plein air depictions were simply as she saw them and were often expressed in pinks, turquoise and green.
Her paintings were not always set with bright sunny conditions. One of her most moody and inspiring works is an oil painting entitled The Raven Swamp, in which we see ravens in both the foreground and background circling an almost-stagnant stretch of water. What adds to the sombre mood of the painting is the way in which the lake and the sky have the same colour. How would you describe it? Muted, melancholic or simply a study of quiet beauty?
Julia Beck, who lived in a rented studio with her friends in Paris and had spent the summers at Grez sur Loing was constantly on the move and would often return to her homeland, Sweden, on many trips during the 1870s and 1880s. Maybe she became disillusioned with her nomadic lifestyle and wanted to put down roots so, in 1888, she decided to set up a permanent home in France. She chose Vaucresson, a small town in the western suburbs of Paris in the Hauts-de-Seine department, a few miles from the centre of the capital. It was close to rural areas, which were often the subject of her artworks. A painting entitled L’Etang (The Pond)Saint-Cucufa, près Vaucresson depicts an area close to Vaucresson. The wood of Saint-Cucufa, also known as the forest of Malmaison , is a wood and a pond in the department of Hauts-de-Seine managed by the French National Forest Office.
Her reasoning behind making her permanent home in France rather than back in Sweden was probably due to the fact that the Parisian art market was buoyant and at this time French art critics were in love with Scandinavian art. Vaucresson was also not a long train ride from the Belgian border and the towns of Bruges and Gent where she had a number of clients. When asked why she did not return to live in Sweden she replied:
“…In Sweden I could never learn to paint the sun – it is so hard to see, the air is clear, oui, but in Normandy the atmosphere is misty and there I could see the sun glittering in the haze and on the sea…”
Julia Beck remained unmarried all her life. She had had many female Scandinavian artist friends who, once married, had given up their art to look after their home and family. That course of action was not for her as her true love was her art. One of her paintings she completed in the last years of her life was her 1931 work entitled Nénuphars (Water Lillies) which once again reminds us of Monet and Impressionism.
France appreciated her artistic talent and in 1934 she was awarded the Legion d’Honneur. She exhibited widely in Paris and abroad and received a number of medals for her paintings. Sadly the Swedish art fraternity did not take kindly to her abandonment of her country and she was not allowed to exhibit in the Swedish pavilion at the 1900 World Fair in Paris.
Julia Beck died in Vaucresson on September 21st 1935, aged 81.
Some biographers have maintained that Zorn’s personality was somewhat loud and garish and it is that personal trait which can often be seen in the animated, broad sweeping distinctive brushstrokes of his works. By the beginning of the 1880s Zorn had acquired a self-assured style, and with his popular artwork, he was on an artistic journey. As in so many instances in the early life of aspiring artists, who were being academically trained, Zorn’s view on how art should be taught ended with him having disagreements with the director of the Royal Academy of Fine Art regarding the strict curriculum and in January 1881, after a final divergence of opinion with the Academy’s director regarding the school’s authoritarian and inflexible curriculum, Zorn decided to resign. Zorn, by this time, had built up a strong set of student followers and many followed his lead and also left the Academy.
Having had great success with his painting such as his gouache painting, Une Première, which won him a Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889, his standing as a plein air artist soared. There was nothing new about an artist depicting a nude with a backdrop of nature but Zorn’s depictions were quite different to those academic artists who liked to have a mythological theme in their works, full of nymphs prancing through forests and fields!
The nudes in Zorn’s paintings were depicted differently. There was a realism about his subjects. The naked women were simply depicted as healthy, ordinary Nordic women who were merely part of nature. A good example of this is his 1908 painting entitled The Hinds.
One of his most beautiful works featuring a female nude is his 1889 painting entitled In Wikströms Studio. At this time Zorn and his wife Emma were living in Montmartre where he had his studio. He and his wife often entertained intellectuals and artists, especially artists from Scandinavia, who, like him, had decided to ply their trade in the French capital. One such artist was the Finnish sculptor, Emil Wikström, and he and Zorn became close friends. The two men shared a fascination for the female nude and the search for the perfect body to paint or sculpt and the two men would often use the same models for their work. The painting, as the title suggests, was painted by Zorn at Wikström studio. The young woman, a veritable beauty with luxuriant red hair and an almost golden skin tone, is seen standing next to a yet-to-be-completed image and is in the process of undressing prior to posing for the artist. There is a sense of unhappiness about the scene as if we believe the young woman has been forced into taking her clothes off. There is also a feeling that we are simply voyeurs and in a way, we are simply spying on the woman unbeknown to her, which adds a touch of both censure and hint of eroticism to the work. Despite her seemingly unaware that she is being watched, we feel that we are standing before the work unable to move, gazing at the woman in total silence in case she detects us.
Zorn was contented with his standard of work and a quote published in Société des Peintres-Graveurs: printmaking, 1889–1897 quoted Zorn:
“…I never spent much time thinking about others’ art. I felt that if I wanted to become something, then I had to go after nature with all my interest and energy, seek what I loved about it, and desire to steal its secret and beauty. I was entitled to become as great as anyone else, and in that branch of art so commanded by me, watercolour painting, I considered myself to have already surpassed all predecessors and contemporaries…”
Anders Zorn in the latter years of the nineteenth century continued with his favoured motifs, portraits including his own self-portraits and nude paintings of women. One such work, entitled Self-portrait with Model, which he completed in 1896, is a juxtaposition of his two favoured motifs. In the work, we see Zorn resting in front of his easel, smoking a cigarette as he takes a short break from his work. His partly dressed model is seen lying slumped in the background. Her eyes are fixed upon him and it is this gaze, which gives us a slight feeling of tension between artist and sitter. An etching derived from this painting was completed by Zorn in 1899 and can be seen at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston.
In the early 1900s, Anders Zorn continued with his portraiture and one exceptional example was his Self-portrait in Wolfskin in oils, which he completed in 1915.
Another work of portraiture that is worth a mention is Zorn’s meticulous work entitled A Toast in the Idun Society, which is housed in the National Museum of Stockholm. In this work, we see Harald Wieselgren, an influential intellectual, portrayed as the animated and scholarly speaker. In 1862, Wieselgren was the founder of the Idun Society and throughout his life, he was a leading figure in the Society. The male Idun Society was known for its closed bourgeois atmosphere. Wieselgren was a writer, a librarian at the Royal Library, and for several decades a driving force of the Idun society. This cultural association for men still survives today and since 1885 there has been a female equivalent Society known as Nya Idun.
Undoubtedly, Zorn was best known for his paintings but his etchings were extremely popular in their own right. It is said that his etchings realised higher prices than Rembrandts during his lifetime. In total, he completed almost 300 etchings, many of which were associated with his oil and watercolour works. One such is his 1912 etching entitled Skerikulla. The word Skerikulla means “Skeri girl” in the local Mora dialect, which was spoken by Zorn. Zorn’s model for this work was a local girl, Emma Andersson, and Zorn has portrayed her as a happy young woman with a beaming smile. There is a feeling of energy about her demeanour, which we see in the middle of a laugh. It is a tender depiction. Later that year, Zorn also completed an oil painting of Emma.
Another exquisite etching is his 1891 one entitled Girl with a Cigarette II. Such simplicity, such perfection. There are a number of versions of this etching. One can be found at the Met in New York while another is housed in the Art Institute of Chicago.
We often compare portraiture when we consider the talent of various portrait artists. I wonder if portrait artists ever compare their talent against that of fellow portraitists. I consider this possibility having just read an anecdote on The ARTery website with regards the portraiture of Zorn and that of his contemporary John Singer Sargent.
The story goes that in 1897, Edward Rathbone Bacon, a powerful American railway magnate, challenged Anders Zorn to come up with a superior portrait of his sister-in-law, Virginia Purdy, that John Singer Sargent had painted in 1896. The Sargent portrait had Mrs. Walter Rathbone Bacon standing, in a Spanish gown, leaning against a wall. Sargent’s painting is housed at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.
Zorn took up the challenge but chose a more intimate slant. Virginia sat for Zorn in 1897, during one of his visits to America. We see the lady seated indoors wearing a satin gown. It is a masterpiece of fluid brushwork and soft colour harmonies. He depicted his sitter in a moment of unpretentious elegance, as she hugs her collie dog.
So which was the better? Who won the wager? Well, according to Zorn’s memoirs (!) Sargent, on seeing Zorn’s painting at the Paris Salon in 1897, conceded that Zorn’s work was the winner. However what should be taken from this story is the glimpse into the competitive rivalry between two of the great portraitists of their time as they both strived for portrait commissions from the same slice of American Gilded Age high society in the 1880s with its lavishness and high spending elites.
A woman features in another work by Zorn. It is his Night Effect work, which he painted in 1895 and depicts a night time scene featuring a life-sized portrait of a young woman. She is wearing a red dress, (which one believes implies she is engaged in prostitution) and can be seen leaning against a tree, possibly suffering from an excess of alcohol. It is a life-sized depiction measuring 160 x 106cms (63 x 42ins).
When Zorn grew up, his interest in art was more to do with his love of sculpture before he concentrated on his painting. Maybe the combination of his love of sculpture and his love for his country resulted in one of his most famous creations, the statue of King Gustav Vasa, which Zorn created and was unveiled in 1903 in Zorn’s birthplace and home in the central Swedish county of Dalarna and the town of Mora. Gustav Eriksson of the Vasa noble family was later known as Gustav Vasa. He travelled to the province of Dalarna to rally the peasantry to fight against King Christian II of Denmark, the ruler of the Kalmar Union, a confederation of three countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. In 1523, Gustav Vasa made an impassioned speech to the men of Mora urging them to stand with him against the forces of the Kalmar Union. Gustav lead the rebel movement and his triumphant entry into Stockholm in June 1523 was followed by Sweden’s final secession from the Kalmar Union which was dissolved on June 6th, 1523 and Gustav became King Gustav I of Sweden.
Zorn also sculpted a number of portraits and smaller statues, among them is one known as Morning Bath which he completed in 1909. It is a figure of a girl who holds a sponge in her hands from which a fountain spouts and is situated in front of the home where Zorn used to live.
Anders Zorn used the popularity of his art to fund many charities. One example of this was the holding of a small exhibition featuring thirty-five of his works at the Artists Association in Stockholm in the Spring of 1918. The sale of his works at the end of the exhibition raised 12,642 Swedish Krona, which he donated to the Swedish Red Cross. In May that year, he donated twenty thousand Swedish krona to Västmanlands Dalanation. Västmanlands-Dala nation, usually referred to simply as V-Dala, is one of the 13 “Student Nations” at Uppsala University, in Sweden. The “nation”, was intended for students from the provinces of Dalarna and Vastmanland, the former being the area of Zorn’s homeland. On June 6th, 1918, Zorn became Knight Commander of the Northern Pole Star order, first class. The Order of the Polar Star is a Swedish order of chivalry which was created by King Frederick in 1748 and was a reward for Swedish and foreign “civic merits, for devotion to duty, for science, literary, learned and useful works and for new and beneficial institutions”.
Sweden’s most expensive painting ever; sold at 26 million sek on June 3rd, 2010.
During the summer of 1920, Zorn spent much time sailing around the Stockholm archipelago and spending many nights celebrating on the island of Sandheim. However, Zorn was not well and was in constant pain and could not paint during that summer. After the summer sailing was over he returned to Mora, a tired and ailing man. Zorn was rushed to hospital in August 1920 for emergency abdominal treatment and was operated on at Mora hospital. Sadly Zorn had contracted blood poisoning in the lower abdomen and died on August 22nd, 1920, aged 60.
Zorn’s wife Emma lived another twenty-two years, dying on January 4th, 1942. To honour the memory of her husband, she had worked to create a museum, which opened in 1939. She completed the existing collection by re-purchasing a number of paintings that he had sold and at the same time, she continued the philanthropic work that she and her husband had initiated.
The popularity of Anders Zorn’s art during his lifetime made him very wealthy and, over a number of years, he bought the art of his contemporaries and amassed a considerable collection. In their joint will, Anders and Emma Zorn donated their entire holdings to the Swedish State, including their home, Zorngården, which still remains today much as it was at the time of Emma Zorn’s death in 1942.
As usual much of the information I gleaned for the three blogs on Anders Zorn came from many internet websites but one of which is well worth looking at if you want a full and concise biography of this great Swedish artist. The website is:
In 1896 the Zorns returned to Sweden and went to live at their home, Zorngården, in Mora. Anders’ wife, Emma, immersed herself in the life of the small town and became involved in many different local activities including setting up a small local library and a small society where people could meet and practice their handicraft skills. She also founded the Zorn Children’s Home and the local community was indebted to her for the setting up of a public school for adults in Mora which came into being as a result of the active participation and financial support from her and her husband. Anders and Emma’s relationship is believed to have changed somewhat during the last decade of the nineteenth century. It appears they grew apart, found it difficult to agree on many things, and their marriage changed from one based on deep mutual love, as it was at the beginning, to one of friendly companionship.
Above all else, it was Anders’ skill as a portrait artist that gained him international acclamation. He had the innate capacity to depict his sitters’ individual character and this can be seen in his 1888 portrait of the French journalist and politician, Antonin Proust.
Another fine portrait by Zorn was his 1889 one featuring Ernest Alexandre Honoré Coquelin a French actor who was better known as Coquelin Cadet, to distinguish him from his brother. Zorn believed that a portrait should be painted in an environment that was natural for the model. An artificial studio environment was not to his taste.
At around about the time Anders and Emma settled in Paris and he started to complete paintings which depict not only water, one of his favourite motifs, but nudes either in the water or on the banks of rivers. One such work was his 1888 work entitled Outdoors, which is currently housed in the Gothenburg Art Museum.
Another painting by Zorn depicting nudes and water is his poignant work featuring a mother and her young child whom she is trying to instill in him/her a love of water. This 1888 painting is entitled The First Time and is housed at the Ateneum, the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki.
Zorn completed a number of genre paintings, which focused on the depiction of light and shadow and if you are in North Carolina, near the town of Asheville, then you should make your way to the Biltmore Estate and see one such painting by him. The main residence of the estate is a Châteauesque-style mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895 and is the largest privately-owned house in the United States and there, on the second-floor living area, you will find a beautiful genre painting by Anders Zorn, entitled The Waltz.
It is a genre painting in as much it captures life at a ball. Zorn completed it in 1891. It is a romantic depiction in which we see dance partners gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes but it is all about the artist’s clever use of light and shadow in his portrayal of differing light conditions. The background is bathed in bright light and the ladies’ white dresses glow beautifully. This is in stark contrast to the light conditions in the right middle ground. It is darker in this area of the ballroom, with a dark curtain as a background, which further cuts off the bright-light gaiety of the main dance floor. With the darkness comes intimacy and this sense can be seen in the eyes of the male dancer in the foreground as he peers longingly into the eyes of his partner. Behind them, a man sits alone at a table and watches the dancers. Is he truly alone? Does he wish he was on the dance floor with a beloved partner? The third section of differing light is from the lamp on the table close to the lone man. From its glow, which is reflected on the floor, we can see another couple dancing and catch a faint glimpse of tables in the background. Zorn completed the painting in 1893 and on show at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago that year where it was purchased by George Vanderbilt.
Another of Zorn’s paintings around this time, which focused on the depiction of light and shadows, is one that is held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the Fenway–Kenmore neighbourhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It is entitled The Omnibus and Zorn completed it in 1892. We see five people seated on the bus with their backs to the windows. Look how he has portrayed the light from outside streaming through the windows. It is reflected on the neck of the girl in the foreground and the parcel she holds on her knee. The clothes of the travellers are dark and contrast with the splashes of light in the windows.
During the summers, Zorn spent most of the time at home in Mora and he painted prolifically. One painting of this era which I particularly like is his Realist painting entitled Our Daily Bread, which he completed around 1886 and is now housed at the National Museum in Stockholm. In the painting we see an elderly peasant sitting on a dried-up riverbank gazing forlornly at the ground. Besides her, there is a loaf of bread and a boiling cauldron is hung precariously on a wooden pole, which is resting on the steep banks of the stream. A young child approaches carrying kindling, which will be added to the fire under the boiling cauldron.
The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, often called the Chicago World’s Fair was a world’s fair, which was held in Chicago to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the New World in 1492. Anders Zorn, whose status as a leading Swedish artist, was selected by the Swedish government to act as the superintendent of the Swedish art exhibition at the Fair. Zorn travelled to the United States that year and remained in the country for twelve months. During the next fifteen years, he would revisit America six more times, usually between autumn and spring allowing him time to return to his beloved Sweden in the summer. Zorn loved America and the lifestyle it offered him during his frequent trips to the country but more importantly, it presented him with many portrait commissions, including numerous statesmen and society figures and those of three US presidents, Grover Cleveland, William Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt.
One such portrait was his 1899 portrait of Stephen Grover Cleveland, the American Democratic politician, and lawyer who became the twenty-second president of the United States in 1885, held office for four years before being defeated by the Republican candidate, Benjamin Harrison, but then in 1892 he again won the race to the White House to become the twenty-fourth US President. Zorn painted this portrait two years after Cleveland had completed his second term. The sittings for the portrait, which lasted for several days, took place at the former president’s estate in Princeton, New Jersey. Zorn and Cleveland got on well during the sittings and the ex-President was well satisfied with the portrait, joking to a friend:
“… As for my ugly mug, I think the artist has ‘struck it off’ in great shape…”
Frances Folsom Cleveland by Anders Zorn (1899)That same year, 1899, Zorn completed a portrait of Grover Cleveland’s wife, Frances Folsom Cleveland. Francis Folsom was the daughter of Oscar Folsom, a lawyer and long-time close friend of Grover Cleveland. Cleveland first met Frances Folsom shortly after she was born in 1864 and, when her father was killed in a carriage accident in 1875, the court appointed Cleveland administrator of the estate and he oversaw her upbringing after her father’s death. After High School, Frances attended Wells College in Aurora, New York, and it was around this time when Frances was twenty-one that the relationship between Grover Cleveland and Frances developed romantically. The couple married at the White House on June 2nd, 1886. Frances was twenty-one years old and her husband was forty-nine.
Another American President to feature in one of Zorn’s paintings was Republican, William Howard Taft who became the twenty-seventh US President in 1909. The portrait of Taft, which is housed at the White House, was painted by Zorn during his last visit to America in 1911.
Isabella Stewart Gardner was a leading American art collector, philanthropist, and patron of the arts. She was the daughter of wealthy linen-merchant David Stewart and Adelia Smith Stewart. On the death of her father, she inherited $1.75 million and around this time she started to buy European fine art. In 1903 her own museum in Boston, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which she had built to house her extensive art collection, was opened to the public. She was friends with many artists, such as James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent and during Anders Zorn’s first visit to America, he travelled to Boston where he met Gardner. Through this meeting developed a friendship and soon Zorn became popular with Boston’s wealthy artistic society. In 1894 Zorn painted a portrait of Isabella Gardner at the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice, one of her favourite haunts, which had become a meeting place for a circle of American and English expatriates in Venice.
Zorn’s depiction of Isabella is a joy to behold. Look how he has managed to depict her vivacity and total joie de vivre as she moves into the dining room from the balcony, which overlooks the Grand Canal, imploring her dinner guests to come on to the terrace and witness the beauty of the late evening and the excitement of the ensuing firework display. Her arms are outstretched. She is beside herself with the joy of the moment. Anne O’Hagan Shinn, a well-known American feminist, suffragist, journalist, and writer of short stories, on seeing the painting described it as:
“…a flamelike incarnation of vigour and life – impression helped, doubtless, by the wonderful yellow gown which swathes the strong and supple figure that seem to leap from the canvas…”
For my last blog featuring Alois Priechenfried I struggled for biographical information. In the next few blogs I am looking at the life and work of the well-known Swedish painter Anders Zorn and I am pleased to say that there has been much written about this talented nineteenth-century artist.
Anders Leonard Zorn was born Anders Leonardsson in the central Swedish town of Mora in Dalarna County on February 18th, 1860. The town of Mora is situated on the isthmus between the lakes Siljan and Orsan. Anders’ mother was Grudd Anna Andersdotter, but to her children, she was simply known as Mona, which meant mother in the Mora dialect. Grudd’s family were farmers and Anders was raised on his maternal grandparents’ farm in Yvraden, a hamlet near the village of Utmeland in the parish of Mora. Anders’ mother subsidised the family’s income by working in Von Düben’s brewery in Uppsala and it was here that she met the German brewer Leonhard Zorn, who became Ander’s father. Although she gave birth to Leonard’s son they never married and sadly, Anders Zorn never met his father who died in Helsinki on Boxing Day, 1872. However, Anders was recognised as Leonhard’s son and was allowed to carry his father’s name.
With the absence of a father in his life Anders Zorn was brought up by his grandparents who had a farm in Yvraden, a parish of Mora. He went to the local primary school in Morastrand and when he was twelve-years-old he was sent to the secondary grammar school in Enköping where he studied Swedish, German, history and geography. Although he was just an average student, he began to show an extraordinary artistic talent, especially when it came to depicting people and horses and he displayed an aptitude for being able to carve figures in wood.
On January 3rd 1874, Ander’s mother, Grudd, just a year after the death of Leonhard Zorn, married Skeri Anders Andersson and the couple lived in Lisselby, a small town thirty kilometres south-east of Mora. They had their first child, a daughter, Karin in the November. Later, three more daughters would enhance Grudd and Anders family. In the July of that year Anders Zorn received a bequest of 3000 SEK from the personal estate of brewer Leonardsson and this was allocated for Anders’s upbringing. The money was given to Anders parental guardian, a farmer in Mora, Bälter Sven Ersson, who set it aside for Anders and his education. The inheritance was well managed and lasted for four years.
In 1875, aged fifteen years of age, Anders Zorn went to study in Stockholm. He firstly went to the school for Handicraft and in that September was enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s preparatory school, which was the de facto Principle School for the Academy. There, he studied, the techniques required for painting, drawing and sculpturing. In August 1878 Anders graduates from the Royal Academy of Fine Art’s preparatory school and enters the main Academy.
The financial support of his inheritance came to an end in 1878, but his late father’s German friends had a collection and the money was given to Anders to carry on with his education at the Academy. In 1879 he completed his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Art and received his diploma on the June 28th.
In the Autumn of 1880, Anders Zorn moved to a studio at Hamngatsbacken, a street in central Stockholm. At that year’s Academy Students Exhibition Zorn exhibited a watercolour entitled In Mourning. This beautifully crafted and sensitive work, which depicted the sorrowful face of a young girl in mourning, was greatly admired by the public and critics alike. In the Official Swedish Government Gazette of May 22nd the Zorn’s painting was praised by Carl Rupert Nyholm a leading Swedish critic and Zorn was rewarded with 200 SEK for his work of art.
Following on from this, Zorn received a number of portraiture commissions. The most popular of which were from wealthy individuals and society parents who wanted portraits of their children. One example of this is Zorn’s 1880 watercolour portrait of the banker, Ludvig Arosenius.
In the Spring of 1881, Anders Zorn met Emma Amalia Lamm. Emily, who was the same age of Anders Zorn, but came from a completely different background than that of Anders. She and her family, who lived in Stockholm, were Jewish and her ancestors had settled in Sweden in the 1770’s. They were a wealthy middle-class family who had a love for art and culture and led an intense social life. Her father, Martin Oscar Lamm, who was a wholesale textile merchant, and was part of the S.L. Lamm & Son Textile Company, and her mother, Henriette Lamm (née Meyerson) had three children, Herman, Anna and Emma.
The meeting between Zorn and Emma came about as he had been commissioned to paint a portrait of Emma’s nephew, Nils, the three-year-old son of her sister, Anna and it coincided with Emma who was acting as a babysitter for the young boy. For Anders and Emma, it was a case of “love at first sight” and they became secretly engaged on June 2nd which was just a few months after they had first met. Emma’s family were charmed by her young man but the secret nature of the engagement was probably due to Emma’s parents realising that Anders’ early career as an artist would not be sufficiently lucrative for him to support their daughter.
In August 1881, Zorn went abroad to study and to try to earn enough money to support a family. He left Sweden and travelled to Spain via Paris with his friend Ernest Josephson. The pair visited Madrid, Toledo and Seville and by the end of the year were lodged in Cadiz. It was in Cadiz that Zorn exhibited some of his work and they received great acclaim from the local art critics. He continued his travels in the early part of 1882 passing through Nice and Genoa before arriving in the Italian capital. Eventually he returned to Paris where he met up with Emma and her mother.
For the next four years Anders spent time in England and Spain, returning to his home in Mora during the summers and in the town of Dalarö which lay on the East coast, south west of Stockholm, where the Lamm family rented a summerhouse. He liked to depict people in their traditional costumes. One example of this is his painting entitled A Swedish Girl in Mora Folk Dress. The woman in the present painting is wearing the traditional folk dress of the small parish of Mora, in Dalarna Sweden, where Anders Zorn was born and raised. Even today Dalarna is regarded as the most typical and traditional of Swedish landscapes, and the folk dress plays a large part in the area’s culture. Zorn maintained a home in Mora and contributed greatly to the preservation of the area’s folk customs and dress, as well their local dialect.
During these periods spent on the coast Anders developed a technique of painting water illustrating the fluctuating and reflective surface. An example of this type of work can be seen in his 1887 painting, Rocks at Dalarö II.
Anders and Emma did not get officially engaged until the July 2nd 1885 by which time Anders was financially sound thanks to the many commissions he was completing. Shortly after the engagement Emma and her mother travelled to Mora to meet Anders’ mother and other members of the family. The couple married in a civil ceremony on October 18th 1885. The newly married couple spent the next eleven years travelling, including a honeymoon in Constantinople, where Anders became seriously ill with typhoid fever. Despite their travels in Europe, the couple always returned to Sweden in the summer. In 1886, Zorn had acquired a vacant lot near the church in Mora church and designed and had built a house for his family. Additions were constantly made to the house, and by 1910 it was finished. The house, now known as Zorn House, is surrounded by a garden with berry bushes and fruit trees and adorned with a fountain sculpture in bronze made by Zorn himself. In the garden is the artist’s studio. The Zorngården, as it is called, is one of the most well-known artist homes in Sweden. It remains today almost untouched since their time and is now a museum dedicated to the life of Anders and Emma Zorn.
Emma and Anders Zorn spent the winter of 1887-88 in St Ives in Cornwall. This was an artistic turning point for Zorn. He began to paint in oils and one of earliest oil paintings, A Fisherman in St Ives, was an acclaimed success. It was accepted by the Paris Salon jurists for the 1888 exhibition and received a First Class Medal. By the end of the show it had been acquired by the French state.
Following that achievement, Zorn was awarded a Gold Medal there for his 1888 work, Fish Market in St Ives. This painting is looked upon as one of his most outstanding watercolours.
By 1889 Anders and Emma had finally settled down in their first home in Paris and the French capital was to be their base for the next eight years. It was a challenging time for Emma as having come from a privileged household she had never learnt to cook. However, on the plus-side she had an amazing organisational talent and soon she began to manage her husband’s affairs, arranging contacts with galleries and museums and ensuring his work was well publicised. Art historians now look upon this period, from Anders’ arrival in Paris and the following five years, as his finest artistic years and ones that raised his profile as one of the leaders of the Parisian art scene. In 1889, when he was 29, he was made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur at the Exposition Universelle, the Paris World Fair.
Anders Zorn was asked to paint his self-portrait for the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The Vasari Corridor is a long, raised passageway that connects Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria to Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the river Arno. The passageway was designed and built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari in just 6 months to allow Cosimo de’ Medici and other Florentine elite to walk safely through the city, from the seat of power in Palazzo Vecchio to their private residence, Palazzo Pitti.
The passageway contains over 1000 paintings, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, including the largest and very important collection of self-portraits by some of the most famous masters of painting from the 16th to the 20th century. The collection now has over 400 portraits on view. They are hung along the corridor facing each other in chronological order. The self-portraits at the beginning of the collection are also hung according to the artist’s origin, Italians on the right and everywhere else on the left.
In my last blog I looked at the life of Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, the renowned Swedish landscape painter. In this blog I want to talk about his equally artistically talented daughter Anna Palm. I read a Swedish article which it declared that Anna Palm was “one of our most productive artists from the oscarian era”. Oscarian is similar to what we term Victorian (1872-1907) as it relates to a period when the Swedish monarch Oscar II, who was on the throne between 1837-1901. Although today her work is largely forgotten and very little is written about her, in the 1890‘s she was one of the most wanted artists in Sweden.
Anna Palm was born on Christmas day 1859 in Stockholm. Her father was Gustaf Wilhelm Palm, the court and landscape painter. Her mother, Eva, was the daughter of portraiture and historian painter Johan Gustaf Sandberg. The family lived at Barnhusträdgårdsgatan 19, in Stockholm, which today is known as Olof Palmes Street, renamed after the former Swedish prime Minister who was assassinated in 1986. The home of the Palm family was a favourite meeting place for a large circle of their artist friends. Gustaf Palm who lived in Italy between 1841 and 1851 brought the Italy he loved to his paintings and his love of art was soon transferred to his daughter.
During her teenage years she was home-schooled in art by her father, who was a teacher at the elementary education school, which was a preparatory school for the Academy of Fine Arts. Anna did not attend the Academy itself as it was still uncommon for women to study at that prestigious establishment. However, in 1880, aged twenty-one, she became a student of the history painter Edvard Perséus. Edvard Perséus, born Edvard Persson, had opened a very successful private painting school in Stockholm in 1875 and who, in 1882, was appointed to be a hovintendent (superintendent) responsible for King Oscar’s art collection.
Another of Anna’s tutors was the landscape and genre painter Per Daniel Holm. After this, and through her family’s financial support, Anna travelled to Denmark where she spent some time at the artist colony in Skagen, a small harbour town in the north of Denmark.
It was whilst here that she embarked on one of her best-known paintings, A game ofL’hombre in Brøndums Hotel which she completed in 1885. L’hombre was a quick-fire seventeenth-century trick-taking card game and the Brøndums Hotel in Skagen became the centre of one of the most famous artists’ colonies in Europe, known as the Skagen painters
It was at the beginning of the 1870’s that the first artists came to the town of Skagen, on the east coast of the Skagen Odde peninsula, in the far north of Jutland. Peder Severin Krøyer, one of the best-known of the Skagen painters, was inspired by the light of the evening which he termed the “Blue hour”, which made the water and sky seem to optically merge. These young painters, who congregated at Skagen, had studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and were seduced by these light conditions in an area which also offered numerous sights of natural beauty which could satisfy the plein air painters, and furthermore many of the local population were willing to act as artists’ models for a small fee. It was not just artists who came to sample the fresh and rejuvenating air of this small coastal town. Writers, musicians, and actors often visited the place all of whom wanted to immerse themselves in the cultural life of the colony.
The Skagen Painters had a close relationship with Brøndums Hotel. One of the earliest painters to arrive at Skagen was Michael Ancher who arrived there in 1874 and he soon developed close ties with the family, who owned the hotel, and he eventually married their daughter Anna Kristine in 1880. Anna Ancher went on to become one of Denmark’s greatest visual artists. The Brøndums’ dining-room became the centre of the artists’ social life and was filled with the paintings they donated to cover the cost of board and lodging.
From Denmark, Anna Palm went to live in Antwerp and studied at the studio of the Belgian marine painter Romain Steppe, a painter of landscapes, and genre scenes but was best known for his atmospheric marine painting in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist style. From Antwerp Anna went to live and study art in Paris.
Anna Palm’s painting were shown at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen in 1885 and again in 1887 as well as many other exhibitions around Scandinavia. Once again, one hears about the frustration of artists with their country’s academic training and in 1885 and she was one of the many signatories to a letter from disgruntled artists who felt frustrated by what they termed as the “obsolete education” of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. Despite this criticism Anna became a teacher in watercolour painting at the Academy in 1889 and held that that post until 1891. It was during this period that there was a growing demand for her watercolour paintings and she was soon inundated with commissions, many of which depicted sailboats and steamers.
Views of Stockholm were often depicted in her watercolour paintings, such as her 1892 work entitled Old Opera Seen from Helgeandsholmen. Helgeandsholmen is a small island in central Stockholm.
We can see in a letter she wrote to a client in 1892 as to how busy she was producing watercolours:
“…… Mr. Wilhelm Sjöström, Karlshamn, I have not received students in watercolour painting, because I have so much to do with ordered jobs. What about your second request as to whether I have any watercolour study to sell, I have enough. For example, from the coast of Gotland, two smaller – 33 cm long and 24 cm wide. The one with trees on the left, in the background a jetty and boys wading in the foreground. The other – Lax fi crashed on the way home. They are painted directly after nature and really fresh in colour. I sell these two to 50, but not below. I also have a motif from Stockholm, 55 cm long and 30 cm high, Stockholm’s stream from Riddarholmen for SEK 50. Best is about Mr. Sjöström can decide soon, because I hardly get them ready until they are sold. With the utmost importance Anna Palm.
Stockholm, March 5, 1892. Address: Brännkyrkagatan 4 A. Stockholm…”
It needs to be remembered that 50 kr in the 1890’s was about one month’s salary for a worker and her watercolours now fetch between 15,000 – 25,000 kronor.
Another such work featuring her favoured city was one entitled View of the Royal Palace, Stockholm which she completed in 1893.
Anna Palm left Stockholm and Sweden on New Year’s Eve in 1895 and never returned to her homeland. At this time, Anna Palm was thirty-six years old. Both parents were dead, and her brother had left Stockholm to live in Jönköping. Anna boarded a steamboat to Le Havre and went to live in Paris, with her friend Karin Nilsdotter. After some years in France, the two women went to Italy and during a visit to Capri, she met her prospective husband, Infantry Lieutenant Alfredo de Rosa. The couple married in Vaucresson, a western suburb of Paris, on September 9, 1901. From there they returned to Italy and moved to Capri before settling in the Madonna dell’Arco, district of Sant’Anastasia, near Naples in 1908.
Now an Italian resident, many of her watercolours featured depictions of famous Italian landmarks and Italian life such as her 1900 gouache work entitled Colosseum.
However, Anna never forgot her previous life in Sweden and in fact many of her clients were Swedish and still wanted her to paint depictions of Stockholm and life in Sweden. One such work was her watercolour depiction of Stockholm Castle. These constant commissions allowed her to support her husband and herself.
Anna’s husband, Lieutenant Alfredo de Rosa, was called-up during the First World War and whilst he was away Anna became even more committed to her painting and spent large part of her time at Baiae, an ancient Roman town situated on the north-west shore of the Gulf of Naples, where she completed some of her finest marine paintings. With the ending of the war in 1918, Alfredo de Rosa, then a colonel and Anna were once again reunited. Anna’s health began to fail and she became very frail. Anna Palm de Rosa died on May 2nd 1924, aged 64.
There has to be an enticement to become an artist if one or both of your parents or siblings is a successful painter. Maybe such a family connection is to do with artistic genes. My featured painter today had the perfect start on her road to an artistic future as her father and her maternal grandfather, Johan Gustaf Sandberg, were accomplished painters and must have nurtured her love of sketching and art when she was young. In my next blog I will look at the life and works of the talented daughter, the landscape painter, Anna Palm, later Anna Palm de Rosa, but today I want to concentrate on the talents of her father.
Gustaf William Palm was born in Norra Åsum, a small village close to the town of Kristianstad in Southern Sweden on March 14th 1810. He went to school in Kristianstad and when his regular schooling was completed in 1825 he picked up some work in Lund through the good auspices of a friend, Johan Rabbén, who arranged for him to complete some illustrations for a book on European algae written by Carl Agardh. In 1828, when Gustaf was eighteen years of age, he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Stockholm.
Gustaf Palm was greatly influenced by the works of the acclaimed Swedish romantic landscape painter, Carl Johan Fahlcrantz, whose paintings were often in the form of a somewhat diffused romantic mood with warm, dark colours.
Another influential figure for Gustaf Palm was his Academy professor, and father-in-law, Johan Gustaf Sandberg, a foremost history painter whose works of art often depicted Norse mythology, folklore and Swedish history. One such painting was Gustav Vasa Speaks to the Dalecarlians at Mora, in which we see Gustav Ericksson trying to drum up support with the people of Dalarna in his fight against the Swedish king Christian II during the Swedish War of Liberation in 1521.
Whilst at the Academy Gustaf Palm received many awards for his work and was commissioned to produce illustrations for Sven Nilsson’s book, Skandinavisk Fauna and Sandberg’s illustrated book, One Year in Sweden. In the summer of 1833 Gustaf and fellow artist, Mikael Gustaf Anckarsvärd , travelled to Norway and Norrland on a painting trip and one of Gustaf Palm’s early paintings from this journey was entitled Motifs of Norway which he completed in 1835.
In 1837 Gustaf developed a problem with his eyes and travelled to Berlin to find a cure for the disease. En route he stopped off in Copenhagen where he met the Danish painter, J C Dahl. He remained in Berlin for a year before moving to Vienna in 1838. In Vienna he exhibited some of his work at the Vienna Academy of Arts. His art works depicting Scandanavian landscapes were very popular and the Austrian public deemed his rugged landscapes to be quite exotic and they sold well.
Gustaf Palm began to be influenced by the popular Austrian writer and landscape artist, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller whose work was in great demand at the time.
In 1840 Gustaf Palm left Austria and travelled to Venice, first visiting Hungary and Trieste. He arrived in Venice in the November of that year and soon set about sketching the various facets of this beautiful city, the canals and surrounding lagoon and these he took with him and converted into paintings when he went onto Rome at the end of July 1841. He was to remain in the Italian capital for the next ten years.
One of his early paintings during his stay in Rome was View of Ariccia which he completed in 1841 and was a landscape work depicting the town which lies thirty kilometres south-east of the capital. It is now housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Rome at the time was awash with visiting artists. Tourists flowed through the Italian capital and were often on the look out for something to remind them of their visit and so a painting depicting the city sights or the outlying countryside was a must-have thing. There was a German artist colony and there was a Swedish art colony, to just mention a few, and Gustaf Palm soon became acquainted with the artists. He made friends with the Swedish sculptors Johan Niclas Byström and Bengt Fogelberg and became a lifelong friend of the Swedish watercolour painter, Egron Sellif Lundgren.
Gustaf completed many landscape paintings depicting the hills surrounding Rome, views of Tivoli with the catacombs as well as may of the small picturesque towns close to the city.
In December 1851 Gustaf left the Italian capital and moved to Paris and yet he continued to use his sketches from his time in Italy to complete paintings and seemed to dismiss the Parisian surroundings. In October 1852 he left Paris and travelled home to Stockholm. When he returned home he was elected a member of the Royal Academy. From his Swedish base he made a number of painting trips to central Sweden and up to the far north to Norrland. In 1856, Gustaf Palm married Eva Sandberg, the daughter of the painter and professor Johan Gustaf Sandberg and three years later the couple had a daughter, Anna. From 1860 Gustaf taught at the Academy as a professor of elementary drawing, and he held the position until the school was withdrawn at the end of 1878 and transferred to the Technical School.
In 1870 Gustaf completed a beautiful landscape painting of the area close to the hamlet of Bie in central Sweden entitled Vue in the neighbourhood of Bie. The exquisite depiction shows an artist standing in the road sketching the wooden cottage. The old wooden structure has a roof insulated by layers of grass. A man in the foreground struggles with a heavy pail of water which he is going to give to his horse. His unhitched wagon lays by the wayside. Going along the path leading to the house is a woman carrying a heavy bag. Maybe she and the man have been into town for supplies.
Gustaf Wilhelm Palm continued to teach until 1880 and died ten years later on September 20th 1890. He was 80.
I suppose everybody at some time or other has read or had read to them a children’s fable or fairy tale. As a child we would have been fascinated by these stories, but the enchantment was enhanced by the illustrations which were set alongside the printed stories. My blog today is about an artist who was the master of book illustrations which often sat alongside stories about enchanted woods and fairy princesses. Let me introduce you to John Albert Bauer, the Swedish painter and illustrator.
John Bauer’s father, Joseph Bauer, came to Sweden from Ebenhausen in Bavaria as a young orphaned teenager in 1863. He eventually settled down in Jönköping, which is situated at the southern end of Sweden’s second largest lake, Vättern, a lake, which would play a fateful part of his son, John’s life. In the early 1870’s Joseph married Emma Charlotta Wadell, whose parents belonged to a farming community in Rogberga, a rural area, eight kilometres south-east of Jönköping.
Joseph Bauer and his family lived in an apartment above their charcuterie shop in the bustling East Square in Jönköping. The family business was a very profitable venture, so much so that Joseph Bauer was able to afford to buy a summer residence, Villa Sjövik, which was built in 1881 and was situated on the west shore of the Rocksjö, a lake close to Jönköping. It was a rural location, surrounded by almost untouched nature. Looking back from the lake, forests could be seen straddling the mountains which bordered the city of Jönköping. Alas, Villa Sjövik was demolished in the 1960’s but in its place today, there is the JOHN BAUERSGATAN (John Bauers Park) bearing the artist’s name. It is now a small area of tranquillity in the middle of the bustling city and there is a sign marking the place where Villa Sjövik once lay.
John Bauer was born on June 4th, 1882. He was the third of four children having an elder brother and sister, Hjalmar and Anna and a younger brother Ernst. When John Bauer grew up he spent much time exploring the woods and the nearby fields. Nature to him was his friend. Villa Sjövik was a beautiful residence with a large verdant garden and leading from it was a long jetty which led to the lake which made for an ideal bathing spot. The Bauer family enjoyed their time at their summer residence, away from their town apartment, and after a time, they decided to live permanently at Villa Sjövik.
The Bauer family happiness ended abruptly in 1889 when John was seven years old. His sister Anna died suddenly at the tender age of thirteen and this death had an overwhelming effect on John and his family. Living in an apartment situated above their father’s charcuterie, he was always given to sketching and drawing. During his time at Villa Sjövik, he would spend time walking through the Småland forest, always with his sketchbook. It was probably during these teenage years that he began to draw images of the imaginary creatures which he believed inhabited the woods, such as forest trolls and it could be the time that his imaginary fairy-tale world evolved. Another reason for John’s fascination with the world of fairy tales came from the numerous stories he and his siblings were told by their maternal grandmother Johanna Ellqvist. In these recounted myths and legends, she would tell her grandchildren about superstitions and the powers and the secrets of nature which undoubtedly remained in John Bauer’s mind and would play such a big part of his artistic life.
His initial schooling was at Jonkopings Hogre Allmana Laroverk, the Jönköping Public School of Higher Education and then from the age of ten to sixteen he attended the Jonkopings Tekniska Skola, the Jönköping Technical School. John’s passage through school was undistinguished. He was, at best, a mediocre student who lacked any interest in his studies and during lessons would often be lost in his daydreams and doodling on his books and composing caricatures of his teachers. However, one thing was certain, his ability to draw and his interest in art was undeniable. His interest in art was lost on his parents who were too occupied with their own life. They understood he did not like school and showed no interest in getting a job so were supportive when their sixteen-year-old son told them he wanted his future life to be centred around art.
At the age of sixteen John left home and moved to Stockholm to study art. Although his parents showed little interest in his artistic ambition they did support him financially, enabling him to pursue his future plans. It must have been a difficult time for the teenager as although he was immersed in his chosen life of art he must overcome his doubts about his own ability. At sixteen years of age Bauer was too young to enrol at the Stockholm’s Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts and so became a student at the Kaleb Ahltins school for painters for the next two years.
In 1900, aged 18, Bauer was accepted into the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. He studied traditional illustrations and made drawings of plants, medieval costumes and croquis, which is the quick and sketchy drawing of a live model. There were Classical Art classes, classes which looked at anatomy, perspective, and he would also be expected to attend lectures on the History of Art. When he got home he would also be expected to complete drawing assignments. All of this was to serve him well in his later work. He did well at the Academy and in his 1991 biography of John Bauer, the author Gunnar Lundqvist quotes a comment of one of Bauer’s tutors, the noted historic painter, Gustaf Cederström, who had this to say about Bauer’s work:
“…His art is what I would call great art, in his almost miniaturized works he gives an impression of something much more powerful than many monumental artists can accomplice on acres of canvas. It is not size that matters but content…”
Whilst a student at the Academy he supplemented the money he received from his parents by working as an illustrator for various magazines. One of the greatest influences on him was the fellow illustrator Albert Engström, who was one of the most influential journalists in Sweden. He was a humourist and cartoonist with a great European reputation, and in America he was referred to as the “European Mark Twain”. John Bauer sold his first illustrations to the Söndags-Nisse, which was a light-hearted Swedish magazine. He continued to earn money with his illustrations for this journal and they even offered him a permanent job, which he turned down.
The far north of Sweden, Norway and Finland was the land of the Sami people but with the discovery of vast amounts of iron ore in that region much of their lands were taken over by large mining companies. In 1904 Carl Adam Victor Lundholm planned to publish a book, Lappland, det stora svenska framtidslandet (Lappland, the great Swedish land of the future) which was all about the beauty of this area known as Lapland and to focus on the native Sami people who lived in this wintry region. To make the book complete Lundholm wanted it to be illustrated. Established artists were commissioned. Bauer applied but as he was only young and inexperienced he was asked to prove his abilities by going to Skansen and sketch the Sami people.
Skansen was the first open-air museum and zoo in Sweden which is located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm. It had been in existence since October 1891 and revealed the way of life in the different parts of Sweden prior to the industrial era. This open-air museum atop the hill dominates the island and the site includes a full replica of an average 19th-century town, in which craftsmen in traditional dress such as tanners, shoemakers, silversmiths, bakers and glass-blowers demonstrate their skills in period surroundings. There is also an open-air zoo containing a wide range of Scandinavian animals including the bison, brown bear, moose, grey seal, lynx, otter, red fox, reindeer, wolf, and wolverine (as well as some non-Scandinavian animals because of their popularity). There are also farmsteads where rare breeds of farm animals can be seen.
Lundholm was pleased with what Bauer produced after his visits to Skansen and commissioned him to provide some of the book illustrations, and so in July 1904 Bauer travelled to Lappland, staying there a month, sketching, and photographing the area, its people, and their way of life. The book was eventually published in 1908 and eleven of Bauer’s watercolours graced the book. Bauer also turned many of his sketches and photographs into paintings.
A fellow first-year student of John Bauer was Ester Ellqvist. Ester was born in Ausås in southern Sweden on October 4th, 1880. She was the youngest of seven children of Karl Kristersson Ellqvist and Johanna Nilsdotter. Ester had three older brothers, Carl, Oscar, and Ernst and three older sisters, Selma, Hilda and Gerda. A couple of years after Esther was born, the Ellqvist family moved to Stockholm, where Esther went to the technical school and amongst other things learnt to draw perspective, which was one of the requirements for being admitted into Stockholm’s art academy. One of her sister, Gerda, became an art and needlework teacher, and two of her brothers, Oscar and Ernst made their living as photographers.
John and Ester never studied together as at that time males and females were not allowed to attend the same classes for the men and their artistic education was conducted differently. This was problematic for women such as Ester as although she had the artistic talent and the ambition to succeed she did not have the same opportunities as her fellow male students.
John and Ester began seriously courting around 1903 but it was not a close courtship as they were apart most of the time, and their courtship often just existed as an exchange of letters. But these letters were important as each told the other about their loves, their worries and their hopes for the future
For John, blonde-haired Ester was the personification of a beautiful fairy tale princess and she would be his great inspiration when he started to concentrate on his illustrations for fairy tale books. John and Ester were engaged in 1903, much to Bauer’s family dismay for they believed their son was too young to marry and had yet to establish himself as a professional artist or illustrator.
However, a year after the couple completed their Academy course they were married on December 18th, 1906. Whether it was just marriage jitters but before the wedding Ester was beginning to have doubts about her relationship with John and their future together. One must remember that the two had vastly different upbringings. Ester, except for her first couple of years, lived in the city of Stockholm and was used to all the things cities could offer. She was a lively vivacious person who had many friends and for her, life in the city was exciting and offered up many social events. John Bauer on the other hand was a solitary person who was brought up in a small town and spent much of his life alone or with his brothers wandering around the nearby forests of South Vätterbygden where he gained inspiration for his paintings. The other problem for the newly-weds was that Ester, like John, was an aspiring artist but now, after marriage, she was expected to give up her art and concentrate on her husband, their home, and the family.
The turning point in John Bauer’s artistic career came in 1907 when the publishers, Åhlén & Åkerlund, asked him, to provide illustrations for their newly launched Bland tomtar og troll, (Among Gnomes and Trolls) which was a popular Swedish annual which was full of folklore stories and fairy tales written by various authors. The first edition was published in 1907. Except for 1911 issue, Bauer’s illustrations appeared in the first nine publications. The reason that the 1911 edition of the annual did not contain his illustrations was due to Bauer and the publisher falling out about who owned the watercolours Bauer had given the publisher for the books. He wanted them, they refused saying his material belonged to them and so he declined to supply any material for the 1911 issue. The result was a disaster for the publisher as sales of that year’s annual slumped. The publisher caved in. Bauer was granted the copyright of his paintings which were all returned to him and he resumed producing paintings for their annuals and sales of the annual rose. Many of the illustrations would be of blonde-haired princesses for which Ester was his ideal muse.
One can imagine how excited Bauer was to produce the illustrations. As a child he would walk through the woods close to Villa Sjövik and daydream about the trolls and fairy princess he imagined lived in the woods and now he could convert his dreams into pictorial reality. His illustrations depicted the beauty of Swedish nature with its dense forests pierced by sunlight as it penetrated the gigantic tree canopy. There is a mysticism about his forest illustrations which may sound a chord to those who have ever explored the dark world of a forest.
Due to the restrictions of the technology available to his printers, the 1907to 1910 editions were produced in just two colours: black and yellow even though the watercolour paintings he had given the publisher were in full colour. Things changed with printing techniques in 1912, and the pictures could then be printed in three colours: black, yellow, and blue which were now closer to Bauer’s original paintings. In 1914, following his return from Italy, his illustrations started to be influenced by the Italian Renaissance. However, after eight years of supplying paintings for the annuals, Bauer had had enough and wanted to move on with his art and 1915 marked the last year he provided material for the annuals.
In 1931 a book was published which had extracts from the original volumes illustrated by John Bauer and the proceeds from its sales went to raise money for a memorial honouring Bauer. One of the most memorable illustrations from these annuals was his 1913 picture, Ännu sitter Tuvstarr kvar och ser ner i vattnet. (Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water).
In Gunnar Lindqvist’s 1991 biography of John Bauer he states that in the Spring of 1908, John’s father financed his son and daughter-in-law’s trip to Southern Germany and Italy. John and his father Joseph had visited Germany in 1902. John and Ester’s journey lasted for almost two years during which they studied art, visiting museums and churches as well as sketching and painting. The couple visited Verona, Florence, and Siena. Whilst in Tuscany they spent two months in Volterra, a walled mountain top town of which its history dates to before the 7th century BC. They continued through Naples and Capri, constantly writing home to their families, telling them about all they had seen and done.
It was on their return to Sweden in 2010 that they first got sight of Villa Björkudden on the shores of Lake Bunn, a few miles south east of Gränna. They fell in love with the house and in 1914 they bought it. The following year in the autumn Ester gives birth to their first child, a boy named Bengt, but always referred to as Putte. The nickname may have derived from the Italian word putti, a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child – a cherub! Bengt actually appeared in a painting by his father entitled The Root Trolls, which Bauer completed in 1917.
The marriage of John and Ester Bauer was failing. Ester saw herself and her life being taken away from her. She had wanted to be a portrait artist but instead she was simply a lonely housewife married to an artist. She believed she had nothing to show for herself. Again, another underlying cause for the unhappy marriage was Ester’s discontent about where she lived. Ester had always wanted the city life and John was content with his countryside home on the bank of Lake Brunn. They did return to Stockholm during the winter but that was never enough for Ester. Whether the decision to buy a new house, a permanent home in Stockholm was John’s attempt to save their marriage, we will never know but it sadly ended in the death of the family.
On October 1st, 1918 there occurred the worst train disaster in Swedish history caused by a landslide at Getå. Forty-two people died when the train de-railed due to the collapse of the track after the landslide. The train jumped the embankment, landing on the road below. The tragedy was well-publicized and it was to lead to a fateful decision by Bauer.
Seven weeks later, on November 19th, 1918 John, Ester and two-year-old Bengt had to go to Stockholm to their new home but because of all the media reports about the Getå train disaster John took the decision to take the ferry Per Brahe from Granna to Stockholm instead of going by train. The small steamer carried eight passengers and sixteen crew and was fully loaded with iron stoves, agricultural equipment, sewing machines and barrels of produce. All the cargo did not fit into the steamer’s hold and thus a significant portion had to be stored, unsecured, on deck, making the ship top-heavy. The weather was bad, and the ferry sailed into a raging storm. The violent rolling of the vessel in the big swell caused the deck cargo to shift, and some of it went overboard which destabilized the vessel. The ship foundered and capsized, sinking stern first, just 500 metres from its next port of call, Hastholmen.
All twenty-four people on board, including the Bauers, drowned. John Bauer was thirty-six, Ester, thirty-eight and their son Bengt was just three years old when they perished that night in Lake Vättern.
The Bauers were buried at the Östra cemetery in Jönköping.
Who knows what would have become of the Bauer family if they had not died on that fateful night. Would their marriage have survived? Would John Bauer change his artistic style? Would Ester start painting again? We will never know.
A film about the life of John and Ester Bauer was made in 2017 and can be downloaded free at: