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Friday, April 14, 2017

Sven Erixson

Couple on the Bridge, 1940, Sven Erixson
(reincarnated as van Gogh?)
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes when you study an artist's work created over the course of a lifetimes, you get the impression you may be looking at the work of several different artists judging by the broad variations you see in style, themes, and content. Picasso comes to mind first in this regard, but there are others such as Jackson Pollock, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Sven Erixson for which the same could be said only to a somewhat lesser degree. If the final name in that list baffles you, keep in mind I didn't say they were all great artists vying to become household names. The Swedish painter, Sven Erixson is, in fact, not even in the same ballpark as the others but he does represent a reasonable example of what I'm referring to. At first glance, one might think he was two or three painters rolled into one.
The self-portrait in pencil above (lower-left) dates from 1927.
Born in 1899 in what was then a suburb of Stockholm (now long since incorporated into the city) Sven Erixson was not a great, or even a good draughtsman. In many of his paintings he's barely adequate in that regard. It's little wonder, in that the sum total of all his art training consisted of an apprenticeship of indeterminate length starting at the tender age of fourteen, and about a year at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. The amazing thing, given such a meager academic background, is that he later returned to the Swedish Academy as a painting professor.

Composition with Fish, Sven Erixson.
(A Picasso, or possibly Miro?)
Erixson's artistic output was as extensive as it was diverse. He painted landscapes with and without figures, motifs from the south, interiors, floral pieces, city and port pictures. He drew inspiration from a variety of sources, ranging from Medieval Folk art to German Expressionism. Erixson traveled extensively throughout his artistic life. Many of his scenes find their source in Spain and the south of France, but as he traveled he continuously made an effort to study both the old masters and the most notable contemporary artists of his time. Among the influences garnered during his travels were Goya and Velazquez, El Greco, Paul Klee, Lovis Corinth, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

Motif from the High Coast, Sven Erixson.
(Painted under the influence of Monet?)
Erixson was one of Sweden's better modern painters, with his work represented in most Swedish art museums. He was among the artists who, in 1932, started the artist-led gallery "Color and Shape." His many large scale works include frescos in the Holy Cross Chapel at Stockholm's Woodland Cemetery (1938-40), as well as his great fresco in the town hall of Huddinge (1948-49), into which he wove his own childhood memories of the railroad town. Alongside his easel painting, Erixson often tried other artistic tasks involving his decorative imagination. In 1944, Erixson created the theater sets for Garcia Lorca's Blood Wedding, as well as the sets and costumes for the opera Aniara in 1959.

Nils Holgersson, 1935, Sven Erixson, Nenu Lund School
One of Erixson's more interesting large scale works consisted of an episode out of Selma Lagerlöf's book, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils of Sweden (above), painted on location in the Assembly Hall in Nenu Lund School, Bromma, (Stockholm). Painted over the course of two years (1934-35). Erixson recounts two separate events from the book Nils Holgersson. He connects, and yet divides, the two fields by a birch. On the left Erixson depicts Nils' travel over the checkered cloth. "It was an unusually beautiful day...wild geese came flying in two long lines that met at an angle... He took a leap right into the goose flock and [put his] arms around the neck of the goose..." On the right pane is a winter night fantasy landscape. "Smirre had seen wild geese already in the evening but he had not dared to hope for access to any of them... In the middle of the night moved the landless ice crust of Vombsjön to at one point...bump next to the beach... He immediately went out on the ice."

Boy in the Garden 1926, Sven Erixson. The upper image is that
of the entire painting with subsequent images revealing the
painterly element in almost microscopic detail.

One of the difficulties in showing and discussing the work of an expressionist painter is in getting a feel for the paint itself. Sven Erixson's work is nothing if not a "touch temptation." Seldom do I come across an artist's work with sufficiently high resolution photography to illustrate this painterly element as in the case of Erixson's Boy in the Garden (above). Erixson's Fishing pier, Svolvaer (and those below it) are probably as representative of the artist's personal style as any of the paintings seen above.

Fishing pier, Svolvaer, Sven Erixson

Bojan’ (Interior Dalagatan)
1928, Sven Erixson

Irma och Gullvivorna, 
1943, Sven Erixson


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