fredag 8 april 2011

Märta Holkers: Den svenska målarkonstens historia

So you want to write an art history book. How do you best go about that?

If you want to make it interesting, one suggestion would be to take a certain period of time or geographical area and pick out the greatest works and artists from it and make a whirlwind tour through them, giving intelligent and knowledgeable information about them along the way. The beautiful artwork will do half the job for you.

That is what Märta Holers has done in Den svenska målarkonstens historia ("The history of Swedish painting"). Since she's gone through representative examples from all of Swedish history from medieval times to 2000, she also brings up painters and works that I'm not all that keen on – for example, much like there's basically been no music worth buying since 1992, IMO there's been very little Swedish "fine art" worth its name since the modernistic breakthrough early last century – but since she does it in a knowledgeable and intelligent way, I can certainly live with it.

There's not much more to say, really. This is an excellent book. If you want to get an overview of Swedish art history, I can't think of a better place to start. You'll learn about various artists and art styles, as well as something about the societal developments underlying them, and you'll be treated to some rather beautiful art in the process. We didn't really have much in the way of good artists until the 1700s, but once the building of the royal palace in Stockholm necessitated both importing excellent artists from abroad (i.e., France) and using those foreign masters to train talented young Swedish men as artisans and artists. The building of the palace thus served as somewhat of a "nursery" for artistic talent, and resulted in the 1700 being labeled more or less a "golden century" by Holkers. And considering that it saw Swedish artists like Alexander Roslin, who depicted satin and velvet and other textures so beautifully (I couldn't find a good version of his portrait of Catherine the Great online, unfortunately, so you'll have to settle for a pic of a far less successful ruler, Gustav III) …

… Gustaf Lundberg, who did some marvelous portraits in pastel …

… but as for me, I'll still take the 1800s any day, with painters like Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson and Marcus Larsson:

Of course, covering all of Swedish art history in one book is impossible without skipping a bit too hastily over some genres and artists for some people's tastes – like my own. Did you, for example, know that the "mother" of the Swedish Santa Claus, Jenny Nyström, was a skillful history painter? Here she depicts an old myth about Gustav Vasa being identified early on as someone who's going to do great things when he grows up: "Gustav Vasa som barn inför kung Hans" (though note the kids on the right, looking very much like something from her later, more commercial work).

Anyway, this is an excellent introduction to Swedish art history, and warmly recommended.

(And the high-resolution digitalization of our Swedish art treasure ought to be a priority so that all those pieces of art can be enjoyed by everyone online, without having to travel to the large museums in Stockholm, Gothenburg and other  cities – even though they're certainly excellent and I recommend anybody in the vicinity of Stockholm to pay a visit to Nationalmuseum.)

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