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EUGENE FREDRICK JANSSON

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Biography

Eugene Jansson was born in 1862, the son of a Post Office messenger. His father entertained hopes that his son would enter the banking profession. However, in 1878, Jansson became an art pupil at Slojdskolan (later known as the Technical School), as well as taking lessons from Edvard Perseus. Among Perseus’s pupils were J.A.G. Acke, Richard Bergh, Nils Kreuger and Karl Nordstrom. During 1881 and 1882, Jansson studied at the Academy. Meeting the Swedish painters who had returned from France in 1885, Jansson joined the Opponents, their Swedish avant-garde movement. A year after the Opponents first independent exhibition, From the Banks of the Seine (Stockholm 1885), the artists organised themselves into the League of Artists, of which Jansson was an active member and sometime secretary, from its foundation to its conclusion.

With the exception of two trips abroad (Paris 1900, and Germany and Italy 1901), Jansson lived all his life in Stockholm, and it is the Stockholm streets and the views from the heights of Soder that are his prime subjects during his blamaleri (blue painting). Edvard Munch's Berlin exhibition of 1892 was much publicised and discussed among the Swedish artists, and when it was shown in Stockholm in 1894, it had considerable influence on Jansson's development. Jansson came to know Munch's work even better when he was introduced to Ernest Thiel, the most important patron and collector of contemporary art in Stockholm. Thiel had already acquired many Munch paintings for his collection and was to buy twenty paintings from Eugene Jansson and to finance his trips abroad.

Living with his mother in Soder, Jansson was something of a recluse. His sense of isolation was aggravated by an increasing deafness, a legacy of scarlet fever contracted in childhood, and for three years, between 1904 and 1907, he ceased to exhibit entirely. At the end of this period he adopted the male nude as his principle subject and re-emerged, to the surprise of the Stockholm public, as an exhibitor with entirely new subject matter. Prins Eugen recorded that Jansson told him of his long-held desire to paint male nudes and it was because of his attainment of a degree of financial independence he was able to indulge his inclination toward his natural sexual leaning, which dove-tailed perfectly with the rise of the Vitalism Movement. His models were young sailors and gymnasts (Jansson had been familiar with the gymnasium from his youth when he had been prescribed vigorous exercise to help him recover from a kidney complaint), who he painted performing with weights and ropes or sun-bathing and swimming in the open air bath-house.

The best contemporary sources available from which an understanding of Eugene Jansson, the man, may be drawn are the reminiscences of Tor Hedberg, the art critic (Minnesgestalter, published in 1927); and Jansson's two self-portraits, painted in 1901 and 1910 respectively. Both portraits are interesting, not only for what they reveal of the psychology of the subject, but also for the way in which Jansson shows himself in relation to his work. The earlier portrait is painted with the artist standing before the windows of his studio in Soder. Behind him are his prime subjects before 1904, Stockholm by night rendered in his characteristic loose swirling brush strokes and deep tones of blue. By the time of the second portrait, Jansson had left behind his Blue Painting entirely and was deeply engaged in “Open-air Vitalism”. Here he depicts himself at the baths, walking toward the viewer with several naked young men in the background. In both portraits Jansson suggests his isolation and his seriousness of purpose. His face concentrating, almost severe, and in the bath-house painting he emphasises his distance from the subject matter by painting himself not only fully clothed, but also debonairly. This was typical of him. Tor Hedberg writes of his small tripping steps with the neatness and elegance a man conscious of his public image. In Richard Bergh's painting of the Board of the League of Artists in Session (1903) , one senses a reluctance on Jansson's part to remove his elegant top hat, symbol of status and success. Jansson exhibited in most of the League's exhibitions, and abroad with them in Copenhagen 1903 and Berlin 1910. He is represented in all the major Swedish national collections.

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