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Jansson, Eugène Frederik (1862-1915)  
 
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Upon first looking at Swimming Pool, one might suppose that Jansson's primary goal was to demonstrate the energy and prowess of the swimmers and divers. However, the pleasure that Jansson took in the sensual beauty of these men is expressed through the emphasis that he gave to their exposed buttocks and to their glistening flesh.

Although comparatively small in scale, the spectators at the edge of the pool in the background contribute significantly to the homoerotic mood of the painting. Many of the background figures are dressed as seamen, and the nude men, scattered among them, stand out provocatively. At least one of the nude figures seems to be fondling his genitals.

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In the Self Portrait of 1910 (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm), Jansson depicted himself at the Flottans badhus in the company of beautiful young men. Although he routinely wore no clothes while at the baths, he depicts himself here in an elegant white linen suit, worn with sandals. The broad blue sash around his waist, the yellow tie, and the yellow and blue bands on his straw hat add lively color accents to his figure.

Some scholars have interpreted Jansson's decision to depict himself clothed as an indication of his isolation from others. However, by wearing a costume associated in Sweden with dandies, Jansson provides a clue to his desire for the men around him. Furthermore, the colors of his clothing associate him with the sailors scattered among the crowds around the pool. The sailors wear uniforms of white and blue, highlighted by patches of yellow light, representing reflections of the sun.

Athletes in Interiors

Between 1911 and 1914, Jansson also celebrated the nude male figure in numerous large-scale paintings of athletes lifting weights and performing acrobatic exercises in interior spaces. He executed these paintings in the provisional studio that he established at the Flottans badhus, which was clearly a dominant presence in his later career. His decision to base an important part of his artistic practice in a locale associated with the emerging homosexual culture provides yet another indication of his willingness to flout repressive conventions.

Sailors whom Jansson met at the bathhouse served as models for many of the studio paintings of athletes, but he also featured his partner Nyman in some of them. In Athletes (Atleter, 1912, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, Stockholm), Nyman is shown seated on the floor in a pose that recalls the famous ancient Hellenistic statue Dying Gaul (ca 240 B. C. E., Capitoline Museum, Rome).

Demonstrating his strength, Nyman supports a large iron ball with his right arm, extended straight upwards above his head. As in Young Man Standing in a Doorway, bright sunlight from an unseen source emphasizes Nyman's physical splendor by accenting the contours of his body. Seen from behind, an athletic young man standing in the foreground doorway admires Nyman.

In his effort to visualize the exertions of athletes shown in his studio paintings, Jansson occasionally sacrificed the graceful beauty that he achieved in the pool scenes. For instance, in two paintings of 1914 now in private collections--Barbell Lifted with a Single Arm II (Pressning av stång på en arm II) and Barbell Lifted with Two Arms II (Pressning av stång på två armar II)--Jansson so strongly emphasizes the bulges of the strained muscles and tendons that the contours of the figures seem irregular and jagged.

Furthermore, in order to enhance the impression of athletic exertion, Jansson employed a modified version of the distinctive handling of paint evident in his cityscapes. Among the formal devices that help to convey the strain of muscles are roughly applied, thick strokes of impasto (opaque oil paint) and jagged lines cut into the paint surface with the edge of a palette knife.

In the stunning Acrobats (1912, Thielska Galleriet), an athlete standing on the studio floor uses his upraised arms to support the full weight of his colleague, whose legs are extended straight in the air above his head. As in his paintings of weightlifters, rough handling of paint and irregular contours help to emphasize muscular strain. Nevertheless, the fact that the figure suspended in air exactly echoes the appearance and pose of the acrobat standing on the floor serves to endow this work with an aura of almost Neoclassical harmony and balance. Thus, despite their exertions, these sunlit figures establish a serene mood that seems to foreshadow the work of David Hockney, as Claustrat has suggested.

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