A (Belated) Review: Magic Light – En Plein Air Painting from the Late 19th Century, Waldemarsudde

It’s been a long time, but I’m back! I have now completed my MA, and am taking a brief (few day) break before diving head first into PhD applications. To be back writing about something other than my dissertation is refreshing.

I felt it easiest therefore to start back with something easy and simple, such as a very belated review of an exhibition I saw at home two months ago! Nordic art exhibitions are so few and far between – not helped by living abroad – that I can’t miss writing at least something about it.

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Emma Löwstädt-Chadwick: The Beach Parasoll, Bretagne. (1880)

Ljusets Magi – Friluftsmåleri från sent 1800-tal or Magic Light – En Plein Air Painting from the Late 19th Century was the latest exhibition to be staged at Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde, Stockholm – as many of you will have realised, one of my all time favourite places!

The premise of this exhibition was to provide a display of Scandinavian artists who had been inspired by the en plein air way of painting that was prevalent in French Impressionism. For artists including Carl Larsson, Bruno Liljefors and Hugo Birger, this involved relocating to France, studying in the vein of the French Impressionists – working out of both Paris and the artist colony of Grez-sur-Loing. The village of Grez had once been an artistic retreat for American and British artists during the 1870s, however it soon become the centre around which Scandinavian, predominantly Swedish, artists were drawn. From 1880 onwards Grez provided a source of inspiration for artists escaping the thriving cosmopolitan capital. Although many of the works on display at Waldemarsudde depicted scenes of French rural life, there were those works which revealed the adaption of en plein air painting to the Swedish landscape. It is the assimilation of two artistic identities, uniting the dominance of Impressionism with a longing for home.

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Carl Larsson:  A Bridge in Grez. (1885)

This exhibition at Waldemarsudde provided an insight into this period of Nordic art, however it didn’t challenge the conventions of this period and the way in which it has been studied. Although, this being said, it did provide a vast understanding of the female artists working during this period. This feature was both the success and downside of this exhibition. Had the premise of Magic Light been to represent the female artists of Scandinavia working in the en plein air style, then the effect of this exhibition would have been startlingly different. The advocation of lesser known and studied artists is wonderful, indeed it is what motivates me in my own research, however, this concept must be entertained in the marketing of the exhibition. If one were expecting a prolific display of works by Larsson, Bergh, Liljefors and Zorn for example, then this wouldn’t have been the exhibition for you. It does, however, ignoring the supposed intent of the exhibition, provide an incredible insight into the vast number of female artists working alongside their male counterparts. Works by Nordic female artists, mostly the wives of artists, including Hanna Pauli (wife of Georg Pauli), Karin Bergöö (the wife of Larsson, the both met in 1882 in Grez) and Gerda Roosval-Kallstenius (the wife of Gottfrid Kallstenius), dominate the exhibition space. A rarity in exhibitions, women dominated the scene!

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Gerda Roosval-Kallstenius: The Washer Women, Strandvägen. (1890)

Although the exhibition has now ended I would still recommend a look at the catalogue which not only features some beautiful reproductions, but shows the truly French nature of this time of Scandinavian art history.

The current exhibition at Waldemarsudde is entitled Salon Painting?! and looks at the way in which Swedish salon painting, such as in the works of Julius Kronberg, and how it can be made relevant to viewers today. Expect a review of this in December when I am home and able to see it.

Current and upcoming exhibitions

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