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Jansson, Eugène Frederik (1862-1915)  
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Late Experimental Figurative Paintings

During the final three years of his life, Jansson also created a group paintings that are distinguished from the previously discussed works by their boldly stylized construction of the figures. Typical examples are Two Wrestlers (Två brottare, 1912, private collection) and Sailors' Ball (Matrosbal, 1912, Sjöhistoriska Museet, Stockholm).

In these pieces, Jansson pushed his experimental handling of paint techniques further than in any other works. Instead of trying to record the appearance of body parts, he utilized the component elements of his art to create formal equivalents to them. Thus, in Two Wrestlers, thick parallel ridges of paint serve to indicate the strained muscles of their legs. Similarly, long, gently curved strokes in the Sailors' Ball evoke the swaying movements of the dance.

As in these examples, most of the pictures in this group show clothed figures in public venues, such as dance halls and circus arenas. Also in contrast to his other figurative paintings, Jansson includes women in these scenes, although in such secondary roles as dance partners and spectators.

Reception of Jansson's Late Figurative Works

Jansson's figurative paintings were greeted with much less enthusiasm than his earlier cityscapes, and they generally received only lukewarm praise from critics. However, Thiel, who purchased the Naval Bathhouse in 1907, remained a loyal patron.

Prins Eugen, the youngest son of King Oscar II, who broke with royal protocol by becoming a painter himself and exhibiting works with the Artists' Union (which he was, however, not allowed to join), also collected prominent examples of Jansson's late figurative works. In 1914, Prins Eugen purchased Weightlifter (1911), and in 1918, he acquired Young Man Standing in a Doorway (1907) and Athletes (1912). All these works are now on view at Waldemarsudde, his estate, which became a public museum after his death in 1947.

The highly publicized Olympic Exhibition organized by the Artists' Union in 1912 prominently featured several of Jansson's paintings of athletes. These were the focus of the most extended analyses of Jansson's figurative work to be published during his lifetime.

The art critic Tor Hedberg characterized Jansson's late paintings as an important and original contribution to Swedish art. In particular, he praised the naturalistic modeling of the nude bodies and the sense of atmospheric light infusing the scenes.

However, most other commentators expressed significant reservations about Jansson's late work, and they characterized his attention to body parts as excessive and exaggerated. From a queer perspective of the early twenty-first century, one cannot help but consider these remarks as oblique (perhaps unconscious) indications of the writers' discomfort with the homoeroticism of Jansson's figures.

Although not mentioned in any published commentary, the erotic power of Jansson's paintings of athletes was noted by the homosexual artist Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (1884-1965). In comments that he made in his diary shortly after visiting the Olympic Exhibition, Adrian-Nilsson claimed that the expression of sexual desire was the primary purpose of Jansson's late paintings.

However, despite the fact that he shared Jansson's sexual orientation, Adrian-Nilsson condemned Jansson's focus on material beauty and his apparent disinclination to express higher spiritual ideals. It should be emphasized that Adrian-Nilsson's comments reflect his own commitment to abstraction and that he almost certainly was not condemning the artist's lifestyle from a moralizing perspective.

The late paintings continued to be regarded with disdain in the years following Jansson's death. Thus, despite the strong advocacy of Karl Nördsrom, the prominent writer and collector Klas Fåhraeus refused to include any of Jansson's figurative works in the major exhibition of contemporary Swedish art that he organized at the Liljevalchs Gallery, Stockholm, in 1918. Fåhraeus justified the exclusion of these works by claiming that the Swedish public was not prepared to accept such naturalistic depictions of nude male bodies.

Jansson's Final Year

On January 16, 1915, Jansson suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, which left him paralyzed on one side. For the remainder of his life, he was cared for by Rudolf Rydström (called Rulle), who had been trained as both a wrestler and a nurse.

Rydström had become well known in artistic circles as the model for the predominant nude figure in Carl Larsson's Sacrifice for Winter Solstice (1914-15), a monumental painting, originally intended for the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Rydström perfectly exemplified the type of younger athletic man that most appealed to Jansson.

In a diary entry of May 12, 1915, Nördstrom described a recent visit to Jansson's home. In eloquent prose, Nördstrom revealed how deeply touched he had been by the exceptional tenderness that Rydström displayed as he cared for Jansson, and he also noted the contentment that Jansson seemed to feel in Rydström's company.

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