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Adrian-Nilsson, Gösta (GAN) (1884-1965)  
 
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A prominent Swedish painter, Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, known as GAN, fostered the development of modernist art in his native country. Regarding his sexuality as a fundamental component of his creativity, he frequently incorporated elements into his pictorial compositions, especially in works of the 1910s and 1920s.

Origins and Early Years

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Gösta Adrian-Nilsson was born on April 2, 1884 in the university town of Lund in southern Sweden. Formerly small-scale farmers, his parents, Nils and Anna Nilsson, managed a farmers' market in a working class neighborhood.

Later in his life, GAN maintained that one of the primary memories of his childhood concerned his older brother's geography book, which featured numerous illustrations of nude, tattooed men of the Marquesas Islands. He claimed that these images helped to make him aware at an early age of his dual interests in the male body and in geometric-based art.

GAN provided many indications of his artistic talent during the course of his elementary and secondary school education. Before 1900, he had begun to produce manuscript collections of poems, illustrated with his own folkloric images. Although unpublished, many of these are preserved at the Lund University Library.

Drawing was the only subject in which he received high marks in his graduation exams in 1903 at Lund's Katedralskolan (Cathedral School), one of the most prestigious secondary schools in Scandinavia.

GAN completed a pharmacy apprenticeship in Malmö in 1904. However, he resolved to prepare for a career in art and, therefore, undertook a program of studies at the highly regarded Teknisk Selskabs (Technical School) in Copenhagen, where he studied in 1904 and 1905. In 1905, he moved to Stockholm where he found employment as a designer for Nordiska Möblerings (Nordic Furniture). Once he had fulfilled his mandatory military service in 1906, he focused on literary and artistic endeavors.

He made his public debut as both writer and artist in 1907, when he published a collection of poems and had an exhibition of paintings and drawings at Lund University Museum. Both these early events were presented under the acronym GAN, which he utilized for the rest of his life.

In his literary and visual works of the years 1907 through 1912, GAN boldly expressed his homoerotic desires. Thus, for example, in an Indian ink drawing (dated approximately 1908), a pair of beautiful nude youths are shown holding hands in the midst of branches with heart-shaped leaves.

GAN executed this and other early works in an Art Nouveau style, associated with the Decadent Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By the early twentieth century, Art Nouveau had become stigmatized in Sweden because it was linked in the popular imagination with Oscar Wilde. However, this connection made Art Nouveau very appealing to GAN, who venerated Wilde as a heroic martyr for homosexual freedom.

GAN filled his home in Lund with photographs and paintings of Wilde. In 1908, he created a large portrait drawing of Wilde--incorporating appropriately aged versions of his own facial features but retaining the Irish writer's fuller figure and distinctive pose. Even in the later 1910s, when he had abandoned Symbolism for progressive avant-garde styles, GAN proclaimed in his diaries his profound identification with Wilde as the embodiment of his own erotic.

GAN's early homoerotic poems, paintings, and drawings attracted the attention of progressive intellectuals associated with Lund University. These included Bengt Lidforss, a radical biologist, who created scandal at the University through his openly homosexual lifestyle. According to Rydström, Lidforss introduced many of his younger associates to homosexual brothels in Copenhagen and Berlin.

Lidforss accompanied GAN to Copenhagen, where he studied at Kristian Zahrtmann's independent progressive art academy in 1910 and 1911. As Söderstrom has suggested, GAN might have had a sexual relationship with Lidforss during this time. However, this is uncertain because GAN already shared Lidforss's predilection for younger working class men and because he made no mention of such a relationship in his diaries.

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