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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Nils Dardel

Black Diana, 1929, Nils Dardel
The period around the turn of the century (1900) is one of the most interesting eras in the whole history of art. In Paris, the art capital of the world at the time, Impressionism had become passé. Post-Impressionism, with all its various permutations, was all the rage. Picasso was about to make his grand entrance from backstage in Barcelona. The smell of the internal combustion engine was starting to replace that of horse manure, and there were almost as many foreigners living in the arty Montmartre and Montparnasse districts as there were Frenchmen. Virtually every stereotype we now hold dear with regards to the city of Paris began, or was well established, at the time. Art students from all over the world were flocking to what were deemed the best art schools in the world. Yet, as exciting as the city was for those budding young men and women, it was a terribly difficult time to be coming of age as an artist. There was simply too much of a good thing--too many struggling artists, too many trends developing, too many styles to choose from, and always...always something new to check out, just coming up over the horizon.
Dardel was a handsome, young man. Judging by his self-portraits and his rollercoaster love life, he was attractive to both men and women.
This was the scene a young artist from Sweden named Nils Dardel faced when he first turned up in Paris around 1910. Born in 1888, he was twenty-two at the time, having already spent two years studying at the Royal Swedish Academy in Stockholm. He was no "babe in the woods," but the Paris art world and social swirl must have seemed all but overwhelming. He very wisely latched onto Henri Matisse as his instructional source and sampled a little bit of everything, from Cubism to Fauvism, Pointillism, and several other "isms" associated with Post-Impressionism. None were a perfect fit for a young painter steeped in Swedish Naturalism. His grandfather, after all, had been the Swedish painter, Fritz von Dardel, adjutant to King Charles XV of Sweden, and member of the Royal Swedish Academy.
Return to the Playgrounds of Youth, 1924, Nils Dardel.
Nils Dardel was what was termed at the time a "dandy," which had a whole different implication from the "fine and dandy" phrase we Americans think of today. At best, it referred to a rather fussy, perhaps somewhat effeminate, upper-class effete. More often, however, it had homosexual or bisexual connotations, which seemed not at all to offend the young socialite artist. Homosexuality was illegal in Sweden at the time but not in Paris, which may account for the fact that Dardel spent most of the next twenty years of his life in and around that city. And even though he married in 1921 and the following year, fathered a daughter, Ingrid (who also became an artist), Dardel had about as many liaisons with other men as other women. The marriage, nonetheless, lasted until 1934.
The Dying Dandy,  1918, Nils Dardel, a man preoccupied
half his life with his own death. 
Dardel suffered from a serious heart problem. He knew he would die fairly young, so he "burned his candle at both ends," which only made matters worse. He was an alcoholic and his romantic relationships with both men and women gave rise to gossip and myths. To this day, much of his art is considered autobiographical. A pale, androgynous central figure in The Dying Dandy (above) from 1918, holds his hand on his heart, surrounded by mourners as though he were Jesus Christ himself. The style is modern. In the second version, the figures and the blue background co-exist on the flat surface. The colors work expressively with the complementary hue of blue and orange, red and green.

The Angler, 1931, Nils Dardel (possibly a self-portrait).
We are fortunate in studying Dardel's art to have a fairly complete chronology of his work. One of his earliest, a self-portrait painted in 1906 when he was only eighteen, marks a starting point steeped in Swedish naturalism (not realism). His The Dying Dandy is from the 19th century's "teen" years while his Return to the Playgrounds of Youth from 1924 and his Black Diana (top), from 1929, represent the Post-Impressionist influences of the 1920s. Dardel's The Angler (above), from 1931, not only indicates a return to the Naturalism of his youth, but is quite likely a self-portrait.

Mexican boy, ca. 1940-43, Nils Dardel
During much of the 1930s, Dardel lived a nomadic life, traveling extensively without ever really settling down. Many of his portraits are of people and places he encountered in his travels. He was known to be self-destructive, and was not much appreciated in his lifetime. His breakthrough in Sweden came simultaneously to the outbreak of World War II in Europe, when Liljevalchs Konsthall displayed a retrospective of Dardel's life and works. In the midst of the war in Europe, Dardel, like many of his friends, came to the United States. But unlike them, Dardel did not gravitate to the New Your art scene but to places such as Cuba, Mexico, and Guatemala, where he drew and painted portraits of the natives (above).

The Waterfalls, 1921, Nils Dardel
Nils Dardel died in New York City in 1943. He was fifty-seven, having lived longer than he ever expected. Today, Dardel's work is worth far more than he ever expected as well. His The Dying Dandy sold at auction in 1984 for a record price of 3.4-million Swedish kronors ($381,174). Four years later, the same painting sold for an astounding 13-million kronors ($1,457,430). More recently, in 2012, Dardel's work, The Waterfall (above) sold for 24-million kronor ($2,803,476), to date, the most expensive modernist Swedish painting ever sold.

The Paranoid, 1925, Nils Dardel.
Look like anyone we know?


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