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Jansson, Eugène Frederik (1862-1915)  
 
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Many scholars have described his nude male figures as expressions of Open Air Vitalism, a positivistic movement, which was a predominant force in Swedish social and cultural life between 1904 and 1910. Adherents of this movement encouraged nudity as a means to intensify contact with the rejuvenating forces of the sun and natural forces.

However, it should be noted that Jansson's paintings of nude men differ in significant respects from those of Johan Axel Gustav Acke (1859-1924) and other artists associated with Open Air Vitalism. For example, rather than showing figures in lush rural settings as Acke did, Jansson represented men in urban settings and interiors. Seeking to express the union of men and nature, Acke and other Swedish artists deliberately blended figures with their environments, utilizing almost identical brushwork for bodies and vegetation. In contrast, Jansson clearly distinguished figures from their settings and emphasized their muscles and other anatomical features, including genitalia (which are depicted in a notably generalized fashion by Acke).

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Jansson's representations of nude men may best be understood as expressions of his sexuality. In this regard, it is significant that Jansson's decision to focus upon the male figure corresponds with a period in which he seems to have been more open about his attraction to other men than he had been previously. Because of its association with Wilde and other cosmopolitan homosexuals, the costume of the dandy, adopted by Jansson during these years, can be regarded as a public indication of his sexual preference.

In the 1890s, Jansson repeatedly was characterized by his professional colleagues as very reticent about his personal life. However, by the early 1900s, Jansson is no longer described in this way, and his public association with younger working-class men is noted in private papers of his associates. For instance, letters exchanged by Nördstrom and Bergh in 1903 note with amusement the promenades that Eugène and his homosexual brother Adrian routinely made that year at Sandhamn (then an elegant "summer colony" of Stockholm) with their younger live-in companions, referred to only by their nicknames, Stomatol and Azymol.

Virtually all of Jansson's preserved drawings demonstrate a convincing rendering of anatomy that is truly remarkable for one who had not undertaken extensive formal studies in this field. Although the drawings of 1904 to 1907 already indicate his strong preference for younger athletic men, he portrays individuals with varied and distinctive facial features and body types.

Despite his use of ancient classical motifs, he succeeds in infusing his life studies with a naturalistic vitality, suggesting movements of muscles even in depictions of seated and standing figures. The soft, subtle handling of light and shade intensifies the sensual appeal of the sketched figures.

In looking at Jansson's drawings, one can understand why he insisted that his subjects were "voluntary models" and friends, rather than studio employees. Most of these men gaze at the artist/viewer with an intensity that is unusual in professional studies. In Seated Young Man (1906, private collection), for example, there is a definite implication of desire in the way that the model (Carl Gyllins) looks up at the artist/viewer.

Knut Nyman: Young Man Standing in a Doorway

Produced in 1906 and exhibited in 1907, the Young Man Standing in a Doorway (Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm) is the first large-scale painting of a nude male figure to be completed by Jansson. This work commemorates a major turning point in the artist's life--both professionally and personally.

Knut Nyman is shown in the center of a large interior doorway, arms lifted and outstretched to the doorjambs. He stands in a sensually curved contrapposto pose (i.e, most of his weight on one foot so that his shoulders and arms twist off-axis from the hips and legs), with his right knee projecting out toward the spectator. Sunlight streaming into the room behind him (apparently through unseen windows on a higher level) glistens on his flesh. The erotic appeal of this figure is undeniable.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, scholars generally overlooked the of the figure and interpreted the painting exclusively as a declaration of the artist's dedication to new themes. The paintings on the heavily shadowed walls in the gallery in the background resemble views that Jansson produced up to 1904. By turning his back to these paintings, Nyman indicates the artist's literal abandonment of his previous subject matter and his intention to develop his work in new ways.

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