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Jansson, Eugène Frederik (1862-1915)  
 
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Jansson's friendships with Nördstrom and other artists and his active involvement in the Artists' Union belie the characterization of him by many historians as lonely and isolated.

Jansson's Career, 1890-1904

By the late 1880s, Jansson was beginning to become established in his profession in the Swedish capital. However, the sudden death of Perséus in 1890 drastically altered his circumstances, depriving him of his primary source of income as well as of the personal and professional support of his mentor.

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Jansson was forced to depend once again on the financial assistance of his father. However, in 1891, Frederik Jansson died suddenly from pleurisy. As a result, Eugène became the head of the household, and he assumed responsibility for the care of his mother and brother. Unfortunately, he was able to make very little money from the occasional sale of still life paintings.

Due to their severely reduced economic situation, the family moved to the Södermalm, then one of the most impoverished slums in Stockholm. Although the entire Jansson family felt depressed by their altered circumstances, Eugène ultimately found profound artistic inspiration in his new environs.

The pictures of the mid- and later-1890s marked a significant break with Jansson's earlier work. Lush depictions of sun-drenched streets were replaced by somber images of desolate working-class neighborhoods. Contributing significantly to the melancholy and mysterious mood of many of his cityscapes are the deep blue and grey tones that dominated his palette during this era.

By the mid-1890s, Jansson developed a new and very distinctive technique of handling of paint. Jansson first covered the canvas with very thin layers of irregularly applied paint strokes. Above these, he built up thick layers of heavily textured brushstrokes of great expressive power. Finally, he scraped off scattered segments of the upper layers of paint with a palette knife--thus exposing the canvas weave, which contributes significantly to the textural richness of the completed painting. Facos has proposed that the sheer labor evident in Jansson's technique served to underline his commitment to the workers' movement.

Undoubtedly, Jansson's dramatically altered personal circumstances profoundly influenced the transformation of the subject matter, style, and mood of his paintings. He also drew inspiration from a wide variety of artistic sources.

Among the painters who most strongly influenced his work are the following: the Norwegian Edward Munch (1863-1944), whose works were presented in a major solo exhibition in Stockholm in 1894; the American expatriate James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), whose Nocturnes were much admired in Scandinavia; and the Dutch Post-Impressionist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), whose bold handling of paint was promoted in Sweden by such artists as Nils Kreuger (1858-1930).

Living on the hills of the Södermalm, Jansson was deeply impressed by the views across the Riddarfjärden bay toward the northern part of the city, and he became the first artist to represent them. Beginning in 1893, Jansson made numerous paintings of Stockholm at dusk and dawn, as seen from his apartment. Like Whistler, Jansson seems to have been fascinated with the appearance of shore lights and their reflections.

Jansson's earliest cityscapes of 1893 and 1894 include much more detail than his later work. Influenced by Munch, Jansson simplified his cityscapes and made them more expressive by the mid-1890s. A characteristic painting of that period, Southern Strand (1896, Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm) is dominated by bold shapes with flowing contours. In this painting, Jansson handles brushwork in an almost calligraphic fashion--utilizing distinct systems of curly and undulating strokes to identify the water and land and to differentiate these primary topographic elements from one another.

In the early twenty-first century, the Southern Strand and other views by Jansson can easily seem nostalgic to viewers. However, Jansson represented the most recent industrial and technological developments, and he often suggested their devastating impact upon the urban environment. In Southern Strand, for example, dense industrial pollution absorbs and diminishes the light produced by the row of gas street lamps. Moreover, the heavy, dark shapes of the factories in the foreground seem almost menacing. In The Train (ca 1895, private collection), the picture surface is dominated by the tracks that literally seem to slash the landscape. Angular shapes, heavy brush strokes, and the rough texture of the canvas weave all contribute to the expressive impact of this painting.

By the late 1890s, Jansson generally created cityscapes from memory rather than from direct observation. According to Nördstrom and other contemporaries, the artist believed that this method enabled him to convey most effectively the feelings that he experienced while gazing at his city. In such paintings as Dawn over Riddarfjärden (1899, Prins Eugens Waldemarsdde, Stockholm), forms are rendered summarily, and Jansson evokes "a nearly hallucinatory mood of beauty and mystery," as Varnedoe noted. Nevertheless, Jansson still accurately depicted the reflections of light in the water and indicated the actual locations of steeples and other prominent structures in the northern part of Stockholm.

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