Originally published in The Brilliance of Swedish Glass, 1918–1939: An Alliance of Art and Industry, edited by Derek E. Ostergard and Nina Stritzler-Levine. Published for The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, New York. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1996. 67–83.

From the exhibition: The Brilliance of Swedish Glass, 1918-1939: An Alliance of Art and Industry.

In the early years of the twentieth century the art trade in Sweden constituted a relatively modest phenomenon. It was concentrated primarily in Stockholm and, to a lesser degree, in Gothenburg, a prosperous mercantile city on Sweden’s west coast According to August Brunius, one of the period’s leading critics, Hallins Konsthandel in Stockholm was the first art gallery in the area,1 a pioneering enterprise where one could purchase “reproductions, graphics, a bit of sculpture, and a few modern paintings.”2 Younger exhibitors were also welcomed there. At the end of the First World War the art trade expanded and art dealers established them­ selves along Stockholm’s fashionable Strandvägen. Four new art galleries were dedicated mainly to progressive art, and Brunius declared that Stockholm was becoming increasingly sophisticated, at least on the surface.3

Until around 1917 the selection of art in Stockholm was extensive, and the quality varied greatly. For most Swedes wishing to purchase art, the choice was limited either to the work of the leading Swedish artists—Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson, and Bruno Liljefors—who were schooled in the tradition of French plein-air painters or to the inferior imitations and sentimental landscapes reminiscent of tinted photographs. The offerings reflected the powerful influence of the so-called Konstnärsförbundet (The Artists Federation) at the beginning of the twentieth century. The federation promoted Swedish landscape art, preferably nocturnes. Against this conservative background, any progressive modernist efforts in the new galleries seemed to be nothing less than shocking novelty.

The earliest group of modern painters, known as “De Unga” (The Young Ones), first exhibited together at Hallins Konsthandel in March 1909. De Unga included both traditionalists and revolutionaries, some of whom had trained with Henri Matisse in Paris between 1908 and 1911. One of those who took part in the 1909 exhibition was Edward Hald who would soon join Orrefors Glassworks and eventually become one of the preeminent Swedish glass artists of the twentieth century. The painters Isaac Grünewald and Leander Engström were also among the young radicals showing with the De Unga group in 1909. Three years later, in 1912, they were among the founding members of a new group, “De Åtta” (The Eight), which included Nils Dardel and Sigrid Hjertén, wife of Isaac Grünewald and the only woman artist in the group. Despite the artists’ efforts to distance themselves from traditional painting, the 1909 De Unga exhibition was still essentially conservative, reflecting the traditionalism of the Konstnärsförbundet rather than the liberating aesthetics of Cezanne and Matisse. In two succeeding exhibitions at the Hallins Konsthandel, held in 1910 and 1911, some of the De Unga artists showed more modernist works, only to be met with criticism and incomprehension.4

Although Edward Hald had not participated in the 1912 exhibition of the De Åtta group, his paintings were included at the 1915 exhibition, Schwedische Expressionisten (Swedish Expressionism), at Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm gallery in Berlin.5 Walden had been a strong advocate of futurism, and by 1915 the influential Grünewald had also become interested in this movement.6 Hald’s paintings were shown at the suggestion of the futurist Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (known as GAN) who was acquainted with Walden and, together with Gregor Paulsson, had provided the impetus for the Berlin exhibition. Paulsson would become a major link between artists and the decorative arts.7

Prior to the opening of the exhibition, there was considerable competition and debate among the artists, and many of the founding members of De Åtta, such as GAN, Dardel, Engström, and Einar Jolin, were eventually forced by Grünewald to withdraw from the 1915 exhibition, in part so that Sigrid Hjertén could be included. The work of Grünewald and Hjertén had been greatly influenced by Matisse, who was a major inspiration to Swedish painters between 1910 and 1920.

In addition to De Unga and De Åtta, there were coalitions of other painters who supported each other and exhibited together but were less radical in their approach to painting. One of these groups, established by Birger Simonsson, Tor Bjurström, Hilding Linnqvist, and Erik Hallström, relied on traditional subject matter such as naive, idyllic village scenes and genre painting. Another group, which included De Åtta artists Jolin and Dardel, was known for a sophisticated “naive” manner with classical stylistic traits and, in Dardel’s case, surrealist elements as well.8 Thus by the end of the First World War, many progressive Swedish artists had organized into groups, and from these groups would later emerge several individuals who would make important contributions to the decorative arts.

The Fine and Decorative Arts: Glass on Display in Stockholm

In “Den svenska konsthandeln” (The Swedish art trade), August Brunius singled out the Cirkeln Konsthall on Biblioteksgatan and the Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet at 26 Sturegatan in Stockholm as being especially noteworthy.9 The Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet was established in 1918 by Gösta Olsson, who had been in Paris during the First World War where he had established a remarkable network of contacts as well as a taste for modern French art.10 His gallery became a primary connection between avant-garde French and Swedish art. During the 1920s it was Sweden’s most important venue for nineteenth­ and twentieth-century progressive art, regularly featuring work by Daumier, Renoir, Gauguin, Pissarro, Cézanne, Matisse, Bonnard, and Modigliani.

The gallery also showed modern Swedish glass, particularly that made by Orrefors Glassworks. This began after a 1917 exhibition of Orrefors’s work at the Nordiska Kompaniet (NK), Sweden’s most prestigious department store. Simon Gate and Edward Hald, who were by then the two leading artists at the factory, invited Olsson to the glassworks, and apparently they made an agreement whereby Orrefors would pay for the design of a permanent display case at the gallery while Olsson would attempt to sell Swedish art glass in France through his many connections.11 In March 1919 the first exhibition showing both contemporary painting and art glass went on view at the Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet. The work represented the progressive interpretation of glass as a work of art. Graal glass and engraved crystal were shown alongside work by Picasso and Maurice de Vlaminck and Swedish painters Einar Jolin and Simon Gate.12 Contemporary critics who commented on the exhibition, however, distinguished between the paintings and the glass, reflecting the ongoing bias characteristic of the period.

Another glass artist who received attention in the Swedish press at this time was Edvin Ollers who had begun his career as a painter. In 1917 Svenska Slöjdföreningen (The Swedish Society of Craft and Industrial Design) had recommended him to the Kosta Glassworks.13 Thanks to Ollers, Kosta received critical acclaim for the colored glassware the factory introduced at Hemutställningen (The Home Exhibition), which was held at the Liljevalchs gallery the same year. Ollers modeled his designs after eighteenth-century glass in the collections of the Nationalmuseum and the Statens Historiska Museum in Stockholm. The prototypes shown at the Home Exhibition were made with a glass melt that included impurities causing it to bubble. When the glass went into production at Kosta, a purer melt was used and much of the aesthetic appeal of the original was lost.

In a review that appeared in a Gothenburg newspaper, Brunius referred to a 1919 exhibition of paintings and painted earthenware by Ollers shown at the Cirkeln gallery, noting the apparent “cooperation between the applied arts and industry that this work represented.14 Ollers was one of a number of artists who worked in both ceramics and glass. Brunius credited the interchange between Swedish artists and glassblowers for the rapid advances in the design of both luxury and utilitarian glass. Glassblowers were, in effect, skilled artists. Many glass manufacturers, however, were not supportive of the new artistic efforts. This had been evident in Kosta’s opposition to Ollers’s insistence on retaining the impurities in the glass for artistic effects. Brunius, however, encouraged Ollers to continue his experiments in revitalizing eighteenth-century forms, using earthenware as a medium rather than glass and collaborating with a receptive ceramics factory.15 This did not happen. The freely decorated earthenware that Ollers produced for Upssala-Ekeby in 1918 and exhibited at the Cirkeln gallery was admired by the critics and the public but was not put into production. Elisabeth Thorman, another art critic, summed up the problematic relationship between artists and industry when she described the breakdown between Upsala-Eke by and Ollers whereby “they let the artist buy his own work for a high price, then they washed their hands of him and wanted no more to do with him or his ceramics.”16 Ollers became one of the many trained painters whose work was marginalized. Appointed a drawing teacher at the Tekniska Skolan (School of Technology), he also wrote art criticism from 1922 to 1923.17 His contribution to Swedish applied arts was limited after this period.

Art versus Industry

Despite the collaborative efforts of Svenska Slöjdföreningen, artists remained reluctant to ally themselves with industry. Relatively few individuals responded either to Svenska Slöjdföreningen’s call for artists to work with industry or to the Society’s attempts to secure a new favorable status for artists.18 There reasons for this are difficult to define.

Demography provides at least part of the answer. Most Swedish artists were from modest backgrounds. The majority of them received their formal education either at the Tekniska Skolan, where they were trained as drawing instructors, technical artists, or craftsmen, or at the Konstakademien (Academy of Art), where they were encouraged to become independent artists. The success of individual painters depended on finding a good dealer to present their work and on receiving positive criticism. Very few artists succeeded in attracting the attention of collectors, who were themselves small in number. A few artists, such as Grünewald and the sculptor Carl Milles, became wealthy from their art. Hilding Linnqvist, Nils Dardel, and Otte Sköld were under contract to Gösta Olsson at the Svensk-Franska and were able to sustain good incomes. Success enabled artists to travel abroad where they gained wider aesthetic experience and came in direct contact with progressive developments in the arts on the Continent. During the 1920s many Swedish artists traveled to France and Italy. For the most part, however, contemporary commentary indicates that, during periods of economic depression in the 1920s and 1930s, most of Sweden’s artists lived in poverty. In 1923 the government proposed distributing 250,000 kronor from state lottery funds to needy artists as something of a relief effort.19

Simon Gate was one of the few artists who agreed to collaborate with industry; ultimately he became one of Sweden’s leading glass artists. Trained as a draftsman at the Tekniska Skolan, he intended to establish a career as a portrait painter and went on to study painting at the Konstakademien where he met two of Sweden’s foremost narrative painters, Gustaf Cederström and Georg von Rosen. They were both representatives of the conservative ideal. Gate remained committed to this academic training throughout his career, drawing from it for inspiration. He consistently incorporated classical figures, for example, into his engravings on glass, and he created small molded plaster figurines of mythical beings such as the Faun and Nymph. Such subjects were appropriate to the neoclassical forms he used for his crystal pieces in the 1920s.

The art theoretician and historian Gregor Paulsson was a strong advocate of artists working for industry. In his seminal manifesto, Vackrare Vardagsvara (More beautiful things for everyday use; 1919), he acted as a propagandist, arguing that industry could be further developed by artists. The decorative qualities of contemporary art and the new means of expression then being explored in the arts could fuel the applied arts. Years later, when Paulsson summarized the period between the 1917 Home Exhibition at Liljevalchs Konsthall and the 1923 Jubilee Exhibition in Gothenburg, Sweden, he noted that artists had not gone to work for industry in the numbers he had envisioned. The reason he posited for this was that artists initially did not see themselves as serving society but rather as serving beauty.20 Even at this early stage, functionalism was considered counter to aesthetics.

Paulsson ‘s position was supported by Edward Hald’s brief but illuminating reply to the question of assessing the so-called independent arts, handicrafts, and the mission of the applied arts industry, respectively: “We [who went to work in industry] were regarded with a certain disdain. The work was viewed as a lesser form of artistic activity that was suitable for those with less ability. There was seldom any recognition of an intellectual or social agenda.”21

In a 1925 essay on the relationship between good “independent” art and good “applied” handicraft, August Brunius came up with a variant of the beauty-­versus-function dilemma that Paulsson had identified. He wrote, “A 1925 man [who is pleased with all types of simplifying shortcuts and good tools] becomes angry when he sees the engraved decoration on a piece of art glass disappear as he fills it with water and arranges a bunch of flowers—i.e. when the object is utilitarian, its artistic quality disappears!”22 This summarizes the conflict between function and decoration. In his remarks Brunius quoted both Austrian architect Adolf Loos who said, “ornamentation is a custom as outmoded as tattooing,” and British art critic Roger Fry who called decoration an “artistic eczema.”23 The promotion of form over ornament was central to debates by the art community in Sweden and culminated in the radical functionalism of the 1930s.

Another explanation for artists’ resistance to working with industry might be found in the status quo. Progressive intellectuals such as Paulsson and Hald were excited by the prospect of establishing a new venue for the creation of art within industry. Most artists of the period, however, continued to support the nineteenth-century, romantic vision of artists pursuing individuality and independence, a view they probably shared with the majority of Swedish manufacturers at the time.

The Romantic Heritage of the Late Nineteenth Century: Under the Sign of the Rose Hip

In his major study, L’Art décoratlf moderne en Suède (Modern decorative art in Sweden), Erik Wettergren discussed the applied arts displayed in the Swedish pavilion at the 1925 Paris exposition.24 Wettergren, the curator of decorative arts at the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, was primarily interested in the luxury crafts. He compared the Swedish craft tradition to a tree with three major roots. The first consisted of traditional vernacular handicrafts. The second was the indigenous expression that had evolved from a transformation of French rococo and neoclassical design in the late eighteenth century. The strength and harmonious rigor that characterized French art and culture of the period was readily incorporated into a vernacular Swedish expression. The third root was entirely modern, the result, Wettergren claimed, of the purifying influence of rationalism and sensible taste on nineteenth-century industrial eclecticism

According to Wettergren, if Meissonnier’s rococo and Delafosse’s neoclassicism could be compared to magnificent roses, the Swedish counterpart was the simple rose hip, the wild briar of Swedish romanticism. The cultivated French rose versus the wild Swedish rose was analogous to the opposing ideals of classicism and romanticism. The wild briar was also an apposite symbol for the Swedish national character; it was “the sign of poverty and the charm and purity of the wilds.”25 Between 1910 and 1930, the “rustic” aesthetic represented by the wild rose found extensive expression in interior designs and in designs for ceramics, glass, metalwork, and textiles.

In painting, this aesthetic manifested itself variously during the interwar years. The brief period from 1918 to 1920 was characterized by Swedish naivism, an intimately romantic idiom that paid homage to a dreamy mysticism and a longing for simple, beloved, traditional objects such as the cut-glass designs of the late nineteenth century. Naivism also found expression in the engraved decoration on some of the art glass produced during this period.26 In painting, naive, largely self-taught techniques were explored in response to international modernism, which in Sweden was limited to expressionism and exercises in futurism and cubism.

The naive movement was inspired in large measure by the work of Ernst Josephson, an early romantic visionary of the 1880s and 1890s, whose work also influenced Swedish expressionists. Josephson painted the wild rose itself in a luminous and mystical canvas, Gåslisa, Herdinnana vision (Gåslisa, The Vision of the Shepherdess, ca. 1890). The rose is executed as if it were a piece of jewelry, a rare treasure, presented by nature to the young girl who kneels before her vision. This figure represents a merging of Swedish folk tradition and the popular, romantic interpretation of the Virgin Mary.

The leading exponent of naive painting, however, was Hilding Linnqvist, who was Josephson’s most immediate successor. After a brief period as a student at the Tekniska Skolan and the Konstakademien, Linnqvist worked on his own, drawing from nature and studying engravings at the Nationalmuseum. He also did restoration work. In 1918 a selection of his small­scale paintings, such as Stilleben med hyaciter (Still Life with Hyacinths, 1917) was exhibited at the Liljevalchs Konsthall in the Yngre svenska konstnärer (Young Swedish Artists) exhibition. Also shown were works by Leander Engström, Edward Hald, Vera Nilsson, Gösta Sandels, and Otte Sköld, among others. Linnqvist’s dreamy; fairy-tale-like landscapes and still lifes featuring depictions of traditional, cut or engraved glassware and wildflowers were well received by the public. During the 1920s he became one of the Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet’s most popular artists. Linnqvist, like fellow naive painter Erik Hallström, whose painting Ångsblommor (Wildflowers, 1918) also includes a glass vase, was inspired by medieval Swedish frescoes and provincial eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings that were essentially vernacular.

After several of the naivists traveled to the Continent in the early 1920s, they began to incorporate elements of French and Italian classicism into their work. The romantic cottage garden, for example, a favorite subject for both Linnqvist and Hallström in the late 1910s, was replaced by views of formal gardens such as those outside the villas of southern Europe.27

Expressionism, Orientalism, Late Fauvism: Like a Singing Tree

If the naivists sought to express the dream world of emotion and memory, the many artists who came under the influence of Henri Matisse strove to emulate his attention to an intellectual order (balance in form, harmony, and color) and to painting as dialogue between outer and inner observations. The use of simplified line, rhythmic form, and bold, decorative colors was transformed into highly individual styles by the many Swedish artists who studied with Matisse in the early part of the twentieth century. These included Isaac Grünewald, Sigrid Hjertén, and Edward Hald, who would contribute substantially to the decorative arts with their designs for ceramics, glass, and textiles.28

In April 1918 Isaac Grünewald gave a lecture at the Estetiska Föreningen (Society for Aesthetic Study) in Uppsala. It was published the same year under the title, Den nya renässansen inom konsten (The new renaissance in art). In it he began with a flourish, exclaiming, “Simplification, grandeur, expressiveness, clarity: behold the watchwords of contemporary art.” Under this rubric, he continued by bringing together phenomena as diverse as neolithic cave paintings, Indian and Egyptian sculpture, Persian miniature paintings, “primitive” African art, sixteenth-century Italian art, the paintings of Delacroix, Cézanne, and Matisse, and even Ernst Josephson, whom he called “the first, even if unconscious, expressionist in modern times.

By then Grünewald had assimilated the fluid linear drawing technique Josephson had discovered in an encounter with the spirit or fantasy world in 1888–89 (which led Josephson to a mental breakdown). This is evident in Grünewald’s ink drawings whose subject is a pastiche of Josephson’s “psychotic” sketches.29 Decorative painting, however, offered greater latitude to the young, ambitious Grünewald. In 1913 he submitted an entry to the competition for the decoration of the registrar’s office of Ragnar Östberg’s Stockholm City Hall (completed in 1923). His plan was to create his own version of Matisse’s La Joie de Vivre (1905–06, The Barnes Foundation). Two years later, in 1915, he completed Det sjungande trädet (The Singing Tree), by which time he had found his own dynamic approach. The subject is the Berselii Park in Stockholm. The black trunk of the tree curves upward through golden afternoon light that has colored the shadows a cool green; the crown of the tree pulses with warm red on cool pink. Like characters in a comedy; a woman with a parasol and a small boy wearing a striped jersey pull each other in opposite directions. The composition’s arabesque lines, however, have more in common with the decorative manner of native, Dalecarlian, narrative painting of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than they do with Matisse’s sophisticated orientalism.30

Painting on porcelain was another area that attracted contemporary painters. In 1916 Isaac Grünewald and Sigrid Hjertén exhibited together at the Gummeson gallery on Strandvägen in Stockholm. Grünewald showed paintings of Stockholm city scenes and floral subjects, and Hjertén displayed painted porcelain she had created for Rörstrand. August Brunius was enthusiastic about Hjertén’s work, commenting, “From these painted dishes and boxes the purity and strength of the gift of color shines through… . One also sees what charm there is in the boldness of execution—just as in old Persian ceramics—instead of the ornamental mechanical feel that has become customary in a large segment of the ceramics field.”31 Hjertén had a special talent for decoration but never put her designs for porcelain into mass production, nor did she ever attempt to create art glass. In essence she considered herself a painter who had been trained as a textile artist. At Grünewald’s suggestion, Hjertén abandoned her plans to study tapestries in England and instead went with him to Paris to work under Henri Matisse who further encouraged her talent.32

In 1911, the year she married Isaac Grünewald, Hjertén wrote an article entitled “Modern och österlandsk konst” (Modern and oriental art),33 in which she developed the argument that the qualities of Chinese and Persian art are to be found in the masters of modernism, Cézanne, Matisse, Braque, and Picasso. She formulated “elementary laws” for contemporary art: the consistent simplification of lines in order to obtain the greatest possible expressiveness, the subordination of proportion to the demands of the composition, concentration on the strongest moments of a movement in the part of the figure performing the movement, the supremacy of color over tone… . The curve is the tune of the work, and its consistency must in no way be disturbed by the figure.”34

The subject matter in Hjertén’s painting between 1910 and 1920 often combines, as rival principles, modernism’s interest in depicting the life model as an impersonal arrangement of volume, line, and color, and traditional genre painting. In Brunetten och Blondinen (The Brunette and the Blonde, 1912) and Iván i fåtöljen (Iván Sitting in an Armchair, 1915), for example, the room itself becomes expressive.35 In another portrait of her son, Iván med leksakshäst (Iván With a Wooden Horse, 1918), Hjertén is clearly on the verge of finding the harmony between her delicate palette and the characteristic, dynamically diagonal composition with a simplified curved “Persian” form.

It has been said that Sigrid Hjertén “anticipated the ideal home of our time, with the window open to society.”36 The relationship, however, between her studio/parlor and the vast “room” of society glimpsed through her window was one of tense contrast rather than ideal harmony. From the beginning most Swedish art critics did not understand Hjertén’s art and even treated it with disdain. In 1912 Brunius, who eventually became one of her few supporters, described her paintings as mildly derivative.37 But a few years later, when comparing her art to Grünewald’s at the 1918 Expressinistutställningen (Expressionist Exposition) at the Liljevalchs Konsthall, he had clearly changed his mind, finding her art to be “far from an imitation of Isaac Grünewald. Hertjén’s paintings, the Interiör (Interior), Den svarta kängan (The Black Shoe), Badstrand (Beach), Barnen vid dammen (Children at the Pond), and especially Den blå skottkärran (The Blue Wheelbarrow) and Den lille sjuklingen (The Little Invalid), are exquisite works of a most coloristic imagination.”38 General recognition of her talent for composition and special skill with color came only in the mid-1930s Sköld, after she had stopped painting. Among Matisse’s Swedish students, the only truly independent Fauvist was Sigrid Hjertén.

Edward Hald had known the Grünewalds since his student days in Paris in 1908–09. For Hald the encounter with Matisse ‘s aesthetic was not as decisive as it had been for Isaac Grünewald. Hald’s Paris experiences were more significant in providing a place for him in the “De Unga” group and for giving him the opportunity to visit museums and study paintings by Ingres, Delacroix, Puvis de Chavannes, Cézanne, and particularly Vuillard and Bonnard. Hald’s first solo exhibition, in 1914, consisted of interiors and landscapes as well as studies of nude bathers, which he had painted during a few summers spent on the island of Utö, near Stockholm. These summer scenes were later shown in the 1915 Schwedische Expressionisten (Swedish Expressionism) exhibition at Der Sturm Gallery in Berlin. In 1917, the year in which Hald was hired by Orrefors, he attracted critical attention with an exhibition of paintings at the Lund University Art Museum. His modernist “discrete” approach was praised as was his sense of line and decorative unity.39 From 1917 until 1944, the year he left Orrefors, Hald devoted his energies to creating art glass. It was not until 1947 that he exhibited his paintings again, in a major showing of his work at Konstnärshuset (The Artists’ House) in Stockholm.

Considering the intimately realistic painting that Hald produced between 1910 and 1920, his bravura display of late Fauvism, Det koniska berget (The Conical Mountain, 1921), comes as a surprise. Highly intense German expressionist color is combined with a simplification of form in the manner of Matisse. At a time when contemporary Swedish art in some circles was returning to the classical language of form, Hald opted to situate his nude figures, symbols of freedom and sensuality, in an arcadian landscape. Here the aqueduct of antiquity coexists with a mountain peak reminiscent of neogothic forms; the surrounding landscape includes trees in the shape of arabesques (the large one to the left recalls Grünewald’s “singing tree”) and sunbathers who are painted in the jewellike colors of a stained-glass window. Interestingly, the darker female figure is drawn with the same highlit double outline as in Hald’s earlier design for the engraved glass vase called “Girls Playing Ball” (1919/1920). Perhaps Det koniska berget should be viewed as a sweeping farewell from an artist to a medium to which he would only return decades later.

The Triumph of Cubism and Classicism: Nils Dardel and Arvid Fougstedt

At the autumn 1918 exhibition of work by De Unga and at the Autumn Salon, both held at Liljevalchs Konsthall, the public encountered the most recent trends in Swedish painting, which were conventionally figurative. Evidence of modernist trends such as futurism, dadaism, and constructivism was scarce. The Autumn Salon included traditional landscapes and portraits whose styles recalled French painting, from impressionism to seminal works by Cézanne and Picasso. The impact of Matisse had lessened. The naivists’ compositions amused the public with their wealth of details, narrative depictions, and determination to capture the unsophisticates who still inhabited the city and its environs. A superficial, classicizing cubism represented by Georg Pauli, a painter of the 1890s, and the young Otte Sköld, who had lived in Copenhagen during the First World War, attracted attention and protests. Two collages by Sköld (a dust jacket for a book and a design for bottle labels) were particularly ridiculed. “Why not hang a knitting needle here using a piece of iron wire tied to the frame?” a less-informed critic suggested, thus anticipating Duchamp’s “ready-mades.” Arvid Fougstedt, in his programmatic painting, David i Ingres ateljé (David in Ingres’s Studio; 1918), introduced the new neoclassicism featuring deep perspective, posed figures that were distinctly delineated, sculptural form, and subdued colors. This type of painting came to dominate the 1920s under the name of ny saklighet (new objectivity).

Nils Dardel, a painter who explored many different forms of modernism, also exhibited in the 1918 Autumn Salon. Dardel had traveled to Paris in 1910, studied briefly with Matisse, and continued to work independently. He was at home in the artistic milieu of Paris, associating with Jean Cocteau, Pierre Bonnard, and Pablo Picasso, among others. In 1912 and 1913 Dardel had worked in a cubist idiom and later experimented with naive painting before settling on his colorful linear style. In 1917 he traveled to North America and Japan, and his work became influenced by Japanese drawing and painting. Around 1920 he focused on fantastic and whimsical subjects, often ironic or bizarre and frightening. These works reflect Dardel’s own conflict-ridden emotional life and ambiguous sexuality, while simultaneously evoking contemporary artistic trends.

One of the most refined examples of Dardel’s symbolically and aesthetically rich pictorial world is the watercolor version of the large painting, Visit hos excentrisk dam (A Visit to an Eccentric Lady, 1920). In it, a young woman with the countenance of a Renaissance madonna hovers between self-disclosure and concealment, mirroring the artist’s own emotional struggles. A young man (possibly the artist himself) hangs from the studio skylight. Like the hanged man, a rabbit dangles from a fishing line, eye to eye with a large snake or worm whose contour is repeated in the lines of the tree—a surrealistic version of Grünewald’s singing tree. In this drama there are symbols of masculinity and femininity, humanity and bestiality that act out emotional poses—submission and aggression, temptation and endangerment, dreamlike fascination and naked cruelty.

In two canvases—the enigmatically comic, Columbi ägg (Egg of Columbus, 1924) and the eerie Paranoikern (The Paranoiac, 1925)—Dardel’s painting comes close to the Freudian-inspired Surrealism that André Breton’s circle was then developing in Paris. But unlike the Surrealists of that group—René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and Meret Oppenheim—Dardel created symbolic expressions of an emotional fantasy world at once full of innocence and hard-bitten perversion. It is perhaps closer in mood to the work of the American artist Florine Stettheimer.40

Arvid Fougstedt represents a return to the early French neoclassicism of David and Ingres. Fougstedt lived in Paris during the First World War, where he was on the fringes of the circle of young artists that included Picasso and Modigliani. He returned to Stockholm in 1917 and made his debut there in 1919 with an exhibition of paintings and drawings. The critics praised both his technical maturity and his ability to convey style and contemporary social attitudes with great immediacy.

Inspired by Picasso’s classical 1915 drawing of the art dealer Vollard, Fougstedt painted a portrait of the Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller in 1919–20.41 The precision with which Picasso rendered his Ingres-inspired pencil drawing was decisive for Fougstedt’s own direction, particularly in its distinctive treatment of volume. Fougstedt, however, adds a detailed treatment of the textiles and a lush palette. Picasso was neither a traditionalist nor a surrealist, yet André Breton began his essay on the relationship between painting and Surrealism by referring to Picasso the classicist: “Surrealism had to pass ‘where Picasso had passed and will pass again.’”42

Stiller demanded that his portrait be painted on glass (verre eglomisé), which was an expensive technique whereby the artist had to work “backward,” applying the highlights and details first.43 It required both time and a high level of skill. In the painting Stiller’s face is skillfully modeled with a thin brush in a manner similar to the line painting that had inspired Dardel in Japan in 1917.44 The armchair’s pistachio green upholstery is balanced by the pale violet tasseled shawl and the dominant red Persian carpet, a combination of colors reminiscent of Matisse. In the background is a Chinese cabinet with intarsia decoration on the drawers. Overall the portrait is a unique aesthetic document of the era with considerable coloristic luminosity, due in part to the special effect achieved by the eglomisé technique. It makes reference not only to Picasso’s drawing but also to the traditional bourgeois portrait that originated in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century.

There is a basic difference between the approaches to neoclassicism taken by Dardel and Fougstedt in 1918–20 and by Simon Gate at Orrefors at the same time. Gate focused on variations of well-known subjects, such as Botticelli’s Venus, which were appropriate to the luxury objects he was producing. Dardel and Fougstedt were applying classicism to an entirely new image of the modern individual as a person who was disciplined, organized, and clear-minded (qualities of classicism), as well as eccentric, introverted, and sensual (in the Ingres tradition). Neither Dardel nor Fougstedt applied their talents or translated their visions into objects of the decorative arts.

The Persistence of the Classical Vocabulary

The historicist reactions of Swedish painters to expressionism during the early to mid-1920s were not only based in French neoclassicism and vernacular painting. Artists also looked to the masters of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries for inspiration. Like Fougstedt, Otte Sköld, who was primarily interested in form and had worked in a cubist manner; became drawn to the artists of the Flemish Renaissance—Memling, Brueghel, Holbein, and Clouet. After living in Copenhagen during the First World War, Sköld went to Paris in 1920 where he lived for many years. He painted a number of still lifes in the Dutch seventeenth-century tradition, but the intense social life of Paris also provided him with subjects, as in the adroit composition, Tidsbild—Gypsie Bar, Quartier Latin (Period Picture—Gypsy Bar, Latin Quarter, 1925). The subject is a compact synthesis of three different barroom interiors. The painting can be seen as a response to Pieter Brueghel’s Peasant Dance, which was both accessible and closed to the viewer. Tidsbild—Gypsie Bar also mediates between what is open and what is concealed from the viewer. The mechanical repetition of arms, faces, plastered-down hair, and hats is a deft stylistic manipulation, depicting a crowd of couples engaged in various activities—dancing, smoking, drinking, or kissing. They are “fixed like a heap of bacteria under the lens of a microscope.”45

While Sköld focused on issues of painterly form, Vera Nilsson incorporated personal symbolism into her bold, expressionist paintings of the 1920s and 1930s. Characteristic of her work of the 1920s is a burnished coloring. In Såpbubblor (Soap Bubbles, 1927), Nilsson expresses her anquish over the social and political tensions in Europe between the two world wars. Nilsson had achieved a major success in 1922 when she took part in an exhibition at Liljevalchs Konsthall in which “Falangen” (The Phalanx) artists’ group was first shown. Falangen was an initiative of Nils Dardel and Otte Sköld; it included the elite of Swedish painters, thirteen men and one woman. Nilsson’s deeply moving expressionism was liberated by encounters with the work of Vincent van Gogh and the sensualist oeuvre of Renoir. Gösta Olsson at the Svensk-Franska judged Nilsson’s painting to be the best in the country.

Among Swedish painters, the victory of the eclectic classicism of the 1920s over the expressionism of the previous decade was not based solely on cubism’s breakthrough in the academies of art. Also at issue was the fact that after 1919 it became possible to travel south to the Continent. Young artists enthusiastically studied the great sixteenth- and seventeenth-century traditions and did so with the help of new teachers. Maj Bring, who had painted with Matisse in 1911, described her new impressions of 1922: “André Lhote had opened a school in Montparnasse that Scandinavians enjoyed attending… . Lhote’s theories of composition were not new, they were still the same as those of which, for example, Raphael had made use… . I would instead call [his cubism] a classicism in modern dress. I then copied a small painting by Raphael at the Louvre and it was interesting to see how Raphael in the tiniest detail observed the rules we had picked up at the school in Lhote’s house.”46

Tyra Lundgren, an artist who designed art glass at Kosta Glassworks beginning in 1935, painted the purely classical Självporträtt/I vit turban (Self-portrait/In a White Turban, 1921) during her first year as a student of Lhote’s. She had a higher opinion of Lhote ‘s teaching and theoretical skills than of his painting. The composition of her self-portrait might, at first glance, suggest Jan van Eyck’s Man With a Red Turban, but the sculptural modeling places it in the Italian fifteenth­century portrait tradition. The determination to monumentalize rather than beautify is obvious and supports the artist ‘s own comment: “A number of my paintings could just as well have been sculptures.”47 Lundgren was trained in ceramics and worked as a designer for the Rörstrand and Lidköping Porcelain Factories (until 1930), Arabia in Helsinki (until 1937), Sèvres outside of Paris (until 1939), and Gustavsberg (1939–49). Yet it was mainly in Italy, in Rome’s premier artistic circles and with Venini in the glassworks on Murano, that she found her artistic home. Lundgren herself wrote, “One evening in Venice I bumped into a dazzlingly white, gold-laced Italian officer who invited me for a romantic gondola ride on Venice’s dark, glittering waters. He was Paolo Venini, with whom I had only corresponded up to that point. I came across the industrious Venini the next day on the glassworkers’ island of Murano in his own factory… . So when Venini said, ‘Regard my factory as your own, join me and if you come you’ll borrow my best master,’ I accepted the challenge and began to experiment with Bobolo, one of Venini’s best glass blowers. That’s the way it started. I came with fresh eyes and an imagination about materials.”48

The interest in classical styles and the retreat from experimental modes in the later 1920s and early 1930s gave way to a conservative attitude toward the possibility of genuine collaboration between artists and industrial design. In 1935 Otte Sköld was appointed a professor at the Konstakademien. He later became the academy’s director and also the director of the Nationalmuseum. In his first speech at the Konstakademien he asked, “Why should art be more social than music? Do we perhaps use music to create only psalms, religious hymns, national or international war songs, marches, dances, and jazz? Art, when it is itself, is a free creation… . Just as a game is a free invention, with no other task save the game’s own, so art is and so art ought to be liberated from all new direct missions.”49 Sköld opposed the idea of merging the Konstakademien with the Tekniska Skolan; an Orrefors vase or a photograph, he believed, was not on the same spiritual level as a first-class painting.

In 1936 the successful Tyra Lundgren expressed the same reservations: “For twenty years now, we in Sweden have totally focused on the useful, on giving what was functional an attractive form and on putting a low price on well-made objects. But why should we combine this socially directed industry with art? Is art something useful? … Our mania for calling each and every tasteful creation art has in truth had double-edged consequences. If on one hand it has somewhat elevated the simpler taste of the general public, then on the other the taste of those with more education has been leveled… . An object that is supposed to delight the eye with its surface and its own beauty, regardless of other functions, must be accorded great care and be expensive.”50

In the mid-l930s Sköld and Lundgren represented their time just as Edward Hald and Gregor Paulsson had in 1917. Interestingly; after two decades, the elitist point of view that was linked to traditional, classical ideals emphasizing distinctions between high and low art, between independent and commissioned artists, came to prevail over the bold new way of thinking, of equalizing and removing boundaries. For Sköld and Lundgren the Italian tradition of form was deeply inspiring and they both felt bound to guard its ideals of beauty and independence.

Swedish Artists in the International Arena

In the years just before the Second World War, Swedish artists continued to journey to the Continent. Edward Hald, Nils Dardel, Otte Sköld, and Tyra Lundgren were equally at home in Paris, Rome, Venice, or other European cities as in their native land. They represented the cosmopolitanism that had developed in the Swedish community. Vera Nilsson and other Swedish artists such as Sven Erixson shared a somewhat different philosophy, not solely aesthetic but radical and all-encompassing, springing from a passion for social justice and humanism.

In 1922 Erixson, who had trained at the Tekniska Skolan, won first prize in the design competition sponsored by the Kosta Glassworks. On one of his winning pieces of crystal, he had quoted a line from a poem by a Swedish Renaissance bishop: “Freedom is the best thing that can be sought around the world by the one who can take it.”51 From 1929 to 1931, Erixson was a guest artist at Kosta where he produced richly decorated glass.52 Because of financial difficulties, however, neither the artist nor the management of the glassworks established a permanent collaboration. Instead, most of Erixson’s work consisted of easel and monumental painting for large-scale glass mosaic panels and theater decoration. For Erixson, like other artists of his generation, the conflict between art and craft seemed to have lost much of its sting. His reason for not continuing at the glassworks was simply that painting was his preferred medium.

As Ernst Josephson before him, Erixson expressed his love of life and nature powerfully and subjectively, and his art is viewed by the broad public as being very Swedish. In a darkly dramatic painting, Tidsbild (Picture of the Period, 1937), Erixson captures the mood at Slussen’s, a dynamic structure in the middle of downtown Stockholm, where people are drawn like moths to the newspaper headlines “War,” “Spain,” “Murder.” On the façade of a building in the background a lighted neon “SF” (Svensk Filmindustri) beckons, advertising an escape from reality. International catastrophe was just two years in the future and with it would come an abrupt halt to progress in the arts throughout Europe and indeed most of the world.

© Bard Graduate Center, Nina Weibull.

1.According to August Brunius, from 1910 to around 1920, Hallins Konsthandel was for a time the only dealer in art objects in this area. The gallery was located on Drottninggatan, a principal thoroughfare in Stockholm since the seventeenth century.

2.August Brunius, “Den svenska konsthandeln,” Göteborgs Handelstidmng (January 3, 1919). During the First World War Brunius wrote for Svenska Dagbladet and was editor of its arts pages. Between 1920 and 1923 he wrote for the Göteborgs Handelstidning and after 1923 returned to Svenska Dagbladet. His political liberalism characterized his work as a critic, and he became the leading spokesman for his generation of artists.


4.Gösta Lilja, Det Moderna måleriet i svensk kritik, 19051914 (Malmö, 1955), pp. 120–28, 137–44.

5.In 1912 Walden had exhibited Italian futurism; starting in 1917 he espoused the cause of the Berlin Dadaists.

6.Bengt Lärkner, Det internationella avantgardet och Sverige, 19141925 (Malmö Stenvall, 1984), pp. 122–26.

7.Gregor Paulsson studied art in Berlin (1909–12) and was knowledgeable about modernist art on the Continent. As director of Svenska Slöjdföreningen (1920–34) he oversaw such major events as the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition. In 1934 he was appointed professor of art history at Uppsala University. Also see chap. 3 in this volume.

8.The well-composed landscapes and refined still lifes of Einar Jolin coincide with Matisse’s statement, “Je cherche le calme.” In contrast, Dardel charged his paintings with symbolism, gradually developing an idealized purity of form and line.

9.Brunius, “Den svenska konsthandeln.”

10.Olsson had worked in Paris as a physical therapist during the war.

11.Gösta Olsson [and Kristina Jacobsson], Från Ling till Picasso: En konslhandlares minnen (Stockholm: Bonniers, 1965), p. 70. Orrefors eventually cancelled the agreement with the Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, choosing to sell glass at Nordiska Kompaniet (NK), Sweden’s leading department store. The same year a selection of engraved crystal was also exhibited at the Artium, an art gallery in Stockholm.

12.This was not the first time that graal glass designed by Simon Gate had been exhibited with contemporary painting. In the autumn of 1917 there had been an exhibition of painting and small sculpture with progressive furniture and art glass at the gallery of Konstföreningen (The Art Federation). The artists who exhibited—Torsten Palm, Alf Munthe, and Victor Axelsson—were dubbed “De Intima” (The Intimates) by Brunius. They were of the same generation as De Unga but, unlike them, had not gone to Paris; instead they had remained in Stockholm, primarily in the Smedsudden area on Lake Mälaren at the city’s northwest edge. The intimate landscape artistry of Corot was their ideal. According to Brunius, “Carl Malmsten’s furniture and Simon Gate’s art glass go particularly well with this art. There is the same feel for quality in the detail and for the intimate total work that emerges from the best paintings.

13.Erik Wettergren, “Kostaglaset 1917–1942: Samarbetet med konstnärer,” in Kosta Glasbruk, 17421942, Jubileumsskrift utgiven av Kosta glasbruk med anledning av dess 200-åriga verksamhet (Stockholm [Kosta], 1942), p. 178; Dag Widman, “Edvin Ollers—en av 1917 års män,” Form 3/4 (1960).

14.August Brunius, “Det konstindustriella samarbetet,” Göteborgs Handelstidning (April 1, 1919).


16.A. Elisabeth Thorman was an art critic who wrote for one of the daily newspapers. See Stockholms Dagblad (May 19, 1919).

17.Ollers began at the Tekniska Skolan as an assistant teacher (1912–35); after 1935 he was the school’s leading drawing instructor until it was reorganized as the Konstfackskolan in 1946, after which he remained as professor of drawing.

18.“[The] artists engaged in the applied arts industry benefited from what were extremely favorable conditions and could figuratively sit down at a sumptuously laid table. This was also the most important reason why a number of independent artists such as Hald left the economically uncertain field of painting for the somewhat more secure applied arts industry” (Ulf Hård af Segerstad, “Han stannade till festens slut,” Svenska Dagbladet [September 24, 1983]). This is somewhat inaccurate, however, as fewer than a dozen artists actually became involved with industrial design.

19.Both Brunius and Ollers viewed such efforts as insufficient and unwelcome charity and suggested that government support be directed toward the purchase of public artworks. Starting with a government bill in 1937, Sweden would introduce formalized art support by establishing the Statens Konstråd (State Art Council), whose mission was and still is to purchase works created by the country’s artists and thereby disperse commissions at a cost of 1 percent of the total cost of each new public building. The Konstråd has been successful in reaching this twofold goal.

20.Gregor Paulsson, “Stilepok utan morgondag,” Fataburen (1968).

21.Edward Hald, Att balansera situationen, Form 41 (1945).

22.August Brunius, “Tiden och tidens konsthantverk: ett ord till försvar ochtill angrepp,” Svenska Dagbladet (July 27, 1925).

23.Loos and Fry as cited in ibid. Brunius probably quoted from Adolf Loos, “Ornament und Verbrechen” (1908); reprint in idem, Trotzdem 19001930 (Innsbruck: Brenner Verlag, 1931).

24.Erik Wettergren, L’Art décoratif moderne en Suède (Malmö, Sweden: Malmö Museum, 1925).

25.Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793–1866) was a leading Swedish romantic writer. His works were collected under the title, see Törnrosens bok (1832–42; 1839–50). The briar symbolizes a naive innocence and devotion to God.

26.See, for example, Edward Hald’s Fiskdammen (“The Fish Pond,”1923) and Kärleksstigen (“The Love Path,” 1923), as well as a 1923 plate by Sven Persson and G. Thorell with an engraving of a park with fountain and willow trees (Wettergren, “Kostaglaset,” fig. 78).

27.Hallström’s most famous painting, Rörstrands porslinsfabrik, 1918, however, was inspired by the neighborhood on the outskirts of Stockholm where he and Linnqvist had grown up. Hald and other artists created ceramic tableware at Rörstrand’s. The factory closed in 1926 when the company moved to Gothenburg; in 1932 it moved again, to Lidköping.

28.As Edward Hald recalled, Matisse the teacher seemed “like a hospital doctor in his white medical smock who went around and made diagnoses of the patients—the students. He talked about important subjects, about balance in form, and about contrasts and relationships in color. There was something hygienically fresh about his painters’ school and the big studio in the Cloître Sacré-Coeur in the Bouldvard des Invalides.” “Il faut distinguer” [one must choose],” Matisse once said to Hald, who adopted this as a motto throughout his career (Arthur Hald and Erik Wettergren, eds., Simon Gate, Edward Hald: En Skildring av människorna och konstnärerna [Stockholm: Svenska Slöjdföreningen, Norstedts, 1948]), p. 22.

29.See, for example, the drawing of a couple in an embrace (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, inv. no. NM H 191/1918).

30.The basic shape in Det sjungande trädet is repeated as a modernist sign of celebration and vitality by Edward Hald in his bowl called “Fireworks” (1921).

31.August Brunius, Konst, Svenska Dagbladet (October 3, 1916)

32.When one of Hjertén’s schoolmates looked up the elderly Matisse, the painter remembered the Grünewalds well. Of Sigrid, he said: “‘Elle était très douée.’ [She was very gifted] That was an opinion that I never heard him say about any other of his students” (Maj Bring, Motsols: Memoarer [Gothenburg, Bokförlaget Treangel, 1986], p. 125). Wassily Kandinsky was more reserved; in a 1916 letter to Gabriele Münter, who was then exhibiting in Stockholm and knew the Grünewalds, he wrote, “Tu ne dois pas envier Mme Grünewald à cause de son talent pour la composition… . le tableaux de la dame sont beaux, mais pas assez pesant” [You needn’t envy Mme Grünewald for her talent… . her paintings are fine but not very substantial] (Vivian Endicott Barnett, Kandinsky och Sverige [Malmö and Stockholm: Malmö Museum / Moderna Museet, 1989], pp. 76–77).

33.Sigrid Hjertén, “Modern och österlandsk konst,” Svenska Dagbladet (February 24, 1911).


35.Brunetten och Blondinen is in the Sundsvall Museum; Iván i fåtöljen is in a private collection.

36.Carlo Derkert, Nordisk målarkonst: Det moderna måleriets genombrott (Stockholm: Ehlin, 1951). Derkert distinguishes between Hjertén’s “ideal home” and the 1900 version defined by painter Carl Larsson. For further discussion of Larsson and ideals of the home, see chap. 3 in this volume.

37.August Brunius, “De åtta,” Svenska Dagbladet (June 2, 1912).

38.Idem, Expressionisterna i Konsthallen, Svenska Dagbladet (May 15, 1918).

39.Beate Sydhoff, “Målaren Edward Hald,” in Edward Hald: Målare, Konstindustripionjär, exhib. cat. (Stockholm: Nationalmuseum, 1983).

40.See, for example, Florine Stettheimer, Spring Sale at Bendel’s, 1921 (Philadelphia Museum of Art).

41.Stiller was then at the height of his career, with several internationally acclaimed films to his credit. In 1923 he directed a young Greta Garbo in Gösta Berlings saga and in 1925 would introduce her to the Hollywood film industry. The Picasso drawing of Vollard is in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Elisha Whittelsey Fund). Fougstedt visited Picasso’s studio (which he also sketched), calling it “as big as a church, with close to 500 canvases on the walls. When Picasso pointed out a mammoth canvas, Fougstedt responded: “‘No, look at an Ingres!’ I said, picking up a drawing that was on the nearby table. ‘I painted it, I just finished it yesterday. Ça m’embête,’ he added, ‘I’ll do a series like this and exhibit it after the war.’ I first looked in astonishment at the canvas, which exhibited the wildest cubism, then at the drawing. The latter was a portrait of the art dealer Vollard; using a pencil that was sharp as a needle, he had modeled the most delicate shadows in the face and carefully delineated each and every eyelash” (Arvid Fougstedt, Svenska Dagbladet [December 1915], cited in Bengt O. Österblom, Arvid Fougstedt [Stockholm Wahlström & Widstrand, 1946], pp. 77–80).

42.It first appeared in La Révolution surréaliste (1925–27); cited in Briony Fer, David Batchelor, and Paul Wood, Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art Between the Wars, The Open University: Modern Art, Practices and Debates (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 173.

43.Stiller agreed to an extraordinary fee of 2,500 kronor and an open deadline for the portrait to be painted; it now hangs in the offices of the Sandrew’s film company.

44.Dardel would also paint Stiller’s portrait; see, for example, Eleganter i japan (“Elegant People in Japan,” 1918; private collection) and Den döende dandyn (“The Dying Dandy” 1918; Moderna Museet, Stockholm).

45.Erik Blomberg, Naivister och realister (Stockholm: Aldus/Bonnier, 1962), p. 20.

46.Bring, Motsols, p. 125

47.Maj Modin, “Tyra Lundgrens självporträtt åren 1920–35,” Ph.D. diss. (Uppsala University; 1977), p. 23.

48.Tyra Lundgren, “Mitt liv i konst,” Julpost 45 (1968), p. 21.

49.Rolf Söderberg, Otte Sköld (Stockholm: Sveriges Allmänna Konstföreningen, 1968), pp. 145–46

50.Trya Lundgren, “Vi är inte så bra som vi tror,” Stockholmstidningen (April 4,1936).

51.Blomberg, Naivister och realister, p. 53.

52.His work is in the collection of the Kosta Museum. Some were included in “Xet Sven Erixson i Tumba och Stockholm,” a retrospective exhibition at the Stockholms Stadsmuseum held in 1995.