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A life-long resident of his native Stockholm, Eugene Jansson became one of the most significant artists in Scandinavia at the turn of the century. Although of petit bourgeois origin, he became a true connoisseur of life. He began his artistic training at the Royal Academy in 1881-82. After leaving the Academy and joining the radical fringe of artists who strove towards a new concept of artistic freedom, he set up his studio in the hilly southern part of Stockholm overlooking Lakes Malaren and Riddarfjarden. It was here that he discovered the urban cityscape, which he portrayed with a unique lyrical intensity. This was achieved by the use of more vibrant colours as well as the more somber blues and blacks.
From 1890 to 1904 Eugene Jansson dedicated to the bleak nocturnal panoramic sights of Stockholm, working himself towards a greater degree of abstraction. In this objective he parallels and exceeds the work of Edvard Munch. He admired the works of Munch, which were exhibited in Stockholm in 1892, and he had the opportunity to study his paintings in the collection of their mutual friend and patron Ernest Thiel.
Three years later he burst upon the artistic scene with a wholly new orientation as a figurative painter, causing a great stir by revealing the first of his great series of male figurative subjects.
In an article which reviewed the radical artists of the late nineteenth century, Prins Eugen describes how Jansson had explained to him how his innermost wish since youth had been to be able to paint the nude, but it was only since his economic position had improved that he had been able to fulfill this desire.(1)
Financially strengthened, Eugène Jansson began enlisting volunteer models from the Swedish Navy's cold-water bathhouse on the island of Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. From 1907 he worked nearby in a provisional studio at Skeppsholmen, painting nude or semi-nude young men performing aerobics, training with weights or swimming in open-air baths. Jansson's new subject matter reveals the new vitalist philosophy. Between 1911 and 1914 Eugène Jansson made a total of eight paintings of naked athletes performing exercises. A German-Scandinavian movement incorporating Nietzsche's philosophy and the biological theories of Hans Driesch and Ernst Haeckel. Embraced by the Swedish artist colleague J.A.G. Acke (1859-1924) who became instrumental in introducing `Open-air Vitalism' to Swedish art in 1904, Eugene Jansson was encouraged to explore the theme of human perfectibility in relation to nature. It became an important link between nineteenth-century Symbolism and twentieth-century Modernism.
The critic Axel Gauffin emphasised that Jansson's figure paintings ought not to be conceived as portrayals of reality: We should not expect of these nudes, he insisted, `an academic study with a traditional treatment of the skin, any more than we should of the impalpable, attractive colour play of the expressionists. What Jansson is seeking is the opposite, he is seeking nerves and muscles under the surface of a living ecorche'.(2)
Tor Hedburg wrote of Jansson's painting:
By means of this exhibition, the male form, boldly and supremely, has made its entry into Swedish painting, not as a more or less academic study from models, deprived of real life, in an artificial pose, with neither exertion or repose, surrounded by atmospheric lights, using all the contemporary advantages in colour, model arrangement and gesture; they are products of an utterly creative, original art and at least within Swedish Art I know of nothing to match it.(3)
1) Prins Eugene, Konstnarsforbundets Man, Minnen och Intryck au Prins Eugen, Konstkultur, Oslo 1936, page 103-104.
2) Axel Gauffin, Konstverk och Manniskor, Stockholm, 1915, page 179.
3) Tor Hedberg, Minnesgestalter Stockholm, Stockholm 1927, page 135.
Adrian Jansson, the artist’s brother; by descent to:
Sebastian Engstrom, Stockholm, who inherited the estate; sold in 1983 to:
Moser & Klang; sold in 1984 to:
Stockholm, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, Eugene Jansson, Blå skymning och nakna atleter, February-June 2012, number 47
Wollin, N. G., Eugene Jansson Maleri, Stockholm, 1920, catalogue number 143, illustrated page 126.
Göran Söderlund, Patrik Steorn, Anna Meister, Eugene Jansson, Blå skymning och nakna atleter, Cerlsson Bokförlag & Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, Stockholm 2012