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Jansson, Eugène Frederik (1862-1915)  
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Although well known in his native Sweden, the painter Eugène Jansson has only recently begun to receive the international attention that his accomplishments merit. During the past decade, commentators have proclaimed Jansson as Sweden's first gay artist. This reputation is based primarily upon the paintings that he produced during the final decade of his life.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Jansson had achieved both critical acclaim and financial success. However, in 1904, he suddenly stopped producing the nocturnal cityscapes that had been so eagerly sought by Swedish collectors. Thereafter, he devoted himself to depicting young workers, sailors, and athletes--usually shown nude.

Jansson's late paintings of men eloquently reveal the strong attraction that he felt for his subjects. The artist developed close personal friendships and relationships with several of his models--most notably with Knut Nyman (1887-1946), with whom he lived from 1907 to 1913.

Particularly noteworthy from the point of view of queer cultural history are the monumental paintings of Stockholm's Naval Bathhouse (Flottans badhus). In these provocative works, he conveyed the erotic energy pervading this establishment for nude bathing, which was frequented by the artist and other homosexual men.

Throughout his career, Jansson expressed a notable sympathy for outsiders. Although infused with melancholy lyricism, many of the cityscapes that he produced between 1890 and 1904 reveal the harsh conditions prevailing in the working-class neighborhoods of Stockholm. A committed socialist, Jansson was an early and active member of the Artists' Union, which sought to encourage participation of workers in the visual arts. Jansson's political convictions were consistent with his own background.

Background and early years

Jansson was born on March 18, 1862 in Stockholm, where he resided for the rest of his life, except for a few trips to other parts of Europe. His given names--Eugène and Frederik--pay tribute to both his mother, Eugenia, and his father, Frederik.

Employed as a messenger by the Post Office, Frederik Jansson was able to provide only a modest standard of living for his family. Nevertheless, he and his wife Eugenia cultivated a strong interest in the arts, especially music, and they hoped that Eugène would become a professional musician. In his later years, Eugène indicated that the strong emphasis placed on music by his family influenced his concern with evoking moods in his paintings.

Frederik Jansson was a very skilled amateur flautist. His wife aspired to be a professional singer, but her nervous disposition inhibited her realization of that goal. Eugenia also had an interest in the visual arts, and she occasionally painted still lifes for her own pleasure.

Despite their limited resources, Frederik and Eugenia made sure that both Eugène and his younger brother Adrian (1871-1937) received outstanding educations. In 1871, after several years of preparatory education, Eugène enrolled in Stockholm's prestigious German School (Tyska Skola). An outstanding student, Eugène received high marks in academic subjects and drawing. However, to the dismay of his parents, he performed poorly in music classes.

During his childhood, Eugène began to suffer from serious health problems. In 1874, when he was twelve years old, he was treated for a retinal detachment in one of his eyes. In the same year, he was diagnosed with a severe congenital heart condition that would plague him for the rest of his life.

In 1875, he became ill with scarlet fever, which permanently impacted his health, leaving him with chronic kidney problems and impaired hearing. Jansson's hearing worsened throughout his later years, and he had become virtually deaf by the early 1900s.

While Eugène was recovering from scarlet fever, his physicians predicted that he would die before the age of twenty. Determined to live as full and long a life as possible, he began a program of rigorous physical exercise, which helped to improve his health. Although his heart condition sometimes restricted his activities, he continued to exercise until the final years of his life. Given this personal history, the athletic men shown in his late paintings must have had great psychological resonance for the artist.

Professional Education and Early Stages of His Career

When he completed his studies at the German School in 1876, Jansson aspired to a career in the visual arts. However, disappointed by his son's apparent lack of musical talent, Frederik insisted that Eugène instead accept employment in a store so that he could contribute financially to the support of the family. Fortunately, Frederik eventually relented and offered to help support his son while he prepared for a career as a painter.

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Pushing Weights With Two Arms Number 3 by Eugène Frederik Jansson (1914).
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