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Jansson, Eugène Frederik (1862-1915)  
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Jansson's commitment to socialism is evident in his paintings of workers' tenements--one of the most common subjects in his oeuvre between 1893 and 1904. In Outskirts of the City (1899, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), he depicted one of the numerous large housing projects built for workers on the outskirts of Stockholm. Although shown in daylight, the somber tonality endows the severe mass of the structure with a melancholy mood, similar to that noted in his cityscapes. By utilizing a rather bizarre, exceptionally low vantage point, Jansson endows the structure with a monumental force that may have been intended to suggest the latent power of the workers' political movements.

Jansson's political sympathies are most evident in May Day Procession (Folkets Hus, Stockholm). Under a stormy sky, a long procession of figures moves in a serpentine pattern across an immense plain. Resembling the wind-filled sails of an immense ocean vessel, red banners flutter above the procession.

The simple dark clothing, which Jansson is shown wearing in Me: Self Portrait (1901, Thieslka Galleriet, Stockholm), also has been interpreted as an affirmation of his identification with the proletariat. With furrowed brows, Jansson stares out intently at the viewer, as if to emphasize the seriousness of his artistic endeavor. The half-length figure is placed before a wide window--possibly one in his apartment--overlooking the Riddarfjärden and the northern part of Stockholm. Although Jansson has painted his face tightly and smoothly, the rest of the picture is handled with the freedom characteristic of his cityscapes.

Patronage of Ernest Thiel

Upon the recommendation of Karl Nordström, the wealthy banker Ernest Thiel (1859-1947) visited Jansson's studio during the fall of 1898, and he and the artist developed an immediate rapport. One of the most perceptive and generous European patrons of the era, Thiel consistently supported the efforts of avant-garde writers and artists.

During his initial meeting with Jansson, Thiel bought three paintings. In subsequent years, Thiel assembled the largest single collection of Jansson's paintings, still on display at the Thielska Galleriet, built on his estate between 1904 and 1906 and donated to the city of Stockholm in 1924.

As a result of Thiel's support, both Jansson's professional standing and his economic circumstances had improved significantly by the beginning of the twentieth century. Because Thiel's acumen as a patron was widely recognized, many other wealthy collectors quickly followed his lead and began purchasing Jansson's cityscapes.

With Thiel's encouragement, Jansson modified his relatively simple lifestyle. In the early 1900s, Jansson became an active participant in the sophisticated nightlife of the Swedish capital. Moreover, during these years, he significantly modified his appearance, replacing the somber garb of workers with the elegant costume associated with dandies in Sweden: a white suit and shirt, worn with sandals.

Travels in Europe

Thiel also helped to subsidize the costs of the trips that Jansson made to other European countries between 1900 and 1903. In 1900, Jansson traveled for the first time outside Sweden--visiting the Universal Exposition in Paris and traveling to other French cities.

In 1901, Jansson traveled to Italy and Germany. In Venice, Jansson attended the opening of the Biennale, where three paintings by him were on display in the Swedish room. Considering his later subject matter, it is particularly interesting to note that Jansson reported to friends that, on this trip, he enjoyed visiting the bathhouses in Munich more than touring museums.

During a more extended trip to Italy in 1903, Jansson made many drawings of ancient Greek and Roman statues of nude male figures. These drawings provided an important resource for Jansson in subsequent years.

New subject matter

In 1904, Jansson produced what turned out to be his final view of Stockholm--Österlänggatan (Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm), depicting a narrow street, then occupied by tradesmen in the heart of the Old City. For three years between 1904 and 1907, Jansson systematically sought to retool himself as an artist, mastering the skills needed by a painter of nude male figures. He did not exhibit any of his new works until 1907.

The study of ancient classical sculpture during his trip to Italy is thought to have had a major impact on Jansson's change of subject matter. The poses and gestures of some figures in sketches that he executed from life between 1904 and 1907 recall ancient classical statues that he saw during his trip to Italy.

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