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Gustaf Fjaestad was married in 1898 to the artist Maja Hallén. Maja was a weaver of tapestries and fabrics and soon Gustaf also became interested in the medium. He realized that his paintings would make great tapestries and began composing finished tapestries based on his art. His designs were inspired by nature, flowing water and snow at eventide, festooned with mosses and lichens. Gustaf's sisters Amelie and Anna joined Maja as weavers. The family started their own weaving studio in 1905.
Gustaf Fjaestad was one of the most remarkable Swedish artists of the early Twentieth Century, not least for the range of media with which he worked: he was a painter in oil and watercolour, a wood carver and metal worker, and designed textiles, which he and his wife Maja then made. As a young man, he had been a pupil of Carl Larsson and Bruno Liljefors; his first public success occurred in 1898 at the League's exhibition in Stockholm and he was acclaimed thereafter as one of Sweden's leading artists. Exhibitions of his work were applauded in Berlin in 1914, in Manchester in 1924, and in London in 1927.
Fjaestad's egotism and a tendency to boast of his achievements led to conflict with Nordstrom and Fjaestad's withdrawal from the League in 1905. Nordstrom and Fjaestad were both natural leaders; Fjaestad attracted a circle of artists who lived and worked with him in the country near Lake Racken in western Sweden. Fjaestad is represented, usually by his typical crystalline still snowscapes with their frozen atmospheres, in many public collections around the world, including Copenhagen, Vienna, Rome, London and Chicago. The Thielska Gallery in Stockholm, which is the principle public collection of paintings by the League of Artists, has on permanent display one of the greatest and most curious works of this diversely talented artist: a monumental furniture group, carved, as it were, in the depths of the forest from gnarled tree stumps covered in a relief of pine needles.
The quotation below is from an article in Svenska Slojdforeningens Tidskrift (The Swedish Society for Arts and Crafts Magazine) from the 1907-1908 yearbook:
Gustaf Fjaestad's favourite motif was water; bubbling, running, glittering water in ceaseless motion. To sit by a stream, watching its endless variations was always a source of great pleasure for Fjaestad. His tapestries should not be regarded only as handicraft work, but rather as painterly interpretations of nature on a monumental scale, executed in textile rather than in the conventional techniques which belong to painting. When the Gothenburg Art Museum acquired 'Running Water' in 1907, Axel Romdahl considered it to be the artist's most monumental work. The subject is related to a painting in the Thielska Gallery in Stockholm, but in the tapestry the surface reflections and the shifting patterns on the water are handled in a more sensitive and harmonious manner. Gustaf Fjaestad has given the following description of his choice of material, and techniques: "The material is ordinary Swedish wool of fish wool weave. As soon as I had completed the cartoon, I realised the impossibility of colouring the wool to achieve the nuances of tone and colour for the water. Therefore, I let him (the dyer) dye unspun wool in the lightest of blue and the darkest of brown, and then we mixed and carded the wools to get the tones between, just as one mixes paint on a palette. And if you look, you will see that the water is composed entirely of the conflicts between blue and brown. The snow above is unmixed white wool. Since then I have discovered better ways that free me from the uncertainty of the dyer's work, and all the hazards involved in mixing and carding unspun wool. Now, I get the dyer to take all the unmixed colours I use when painting - ultramarine, emerald, green, vermilion, enamel red, cadmium yellow, burnt and unburnt terracotta, black, white etc - and to dye a large amount of single thread wool in all these colours. He keeps all these single spun strands in all of the colours in stock and as the wool for tapestry is spun from seven or eight single strands, I have at least seven or eight possibilities of getting exactly the colour I want by spinning the threads together. In fact I have more possibilities, as for each colour I have three intensities, for example dark blue, medium blue, and light blue. The greatest advantage of this system is that despite the few colours, I can combine them to create all, and never need to wait an eternity for the dyer. Far from wanting you to keep this a secret, I would be grateful if you would bring it to the attention of others, as it would surely be to their advantage.
Private collection, to 1984; sold to:
Moser & Klang, Stockholm 1985
New York The Swedish Vision: Landscape and Figurative Painting 1885-1920, Moser and Klang 1985, number 23
Arvika, Finland, Gustaf Fjaestad's Tapestries, RackstadMuseet, May-September 1998
New York, The American-Scandinavian Foundation, Luminous Modernism. Scandinavian Art Comes to America. A Centennial Retrospective 1912-2012, October 2011 - February 2012, catalogue pages 134-5
Illustrated in the catalogue of Moser and Klang's 1985 New York exhibition The Swedish Vision: Landscape and Figurative Painting 1885-1920, page 82, plate 23
Patricia G Berman, Luminous Modernism. Scandinavian Art Comes to America. A Centennial Retrospective 1912-2012, pages 134-5, illustrated
Jan Brunius, Svenska textilier: 1890-1990, Signum, Lund, 1994, page 78 for another example in the Malmo Museum dated 1905, illustrated in colour