A Union Of Opposite. Evert Lundquist (1904-94) is a key figure in modern Swedish art, both as an artist and a teacher. His debut was in 1934, and his career spans more than fifty years. He died in 1994 and the relatively small number of exhibitions that have been mounted in the succeeding years have only served to underline his position as one of the greatest Swedish artists of the twentieth century. Curated by Fredrik Liew.
curated by Fredrik Liew
Evert Lundquist made what was an almost sensational comeback in 1989 when he exhibited paintings that not only proved that he was still an artist of crucial importance, in spite of being almost blind, but also provided a new piece of the puzzle in understanding the works he had produced over the course of his life. This return took place at a time when the debate on the nature and the future of painting was in full swing.
Lundquist died in 1994 and the relatively small number of exhibitions that have been mounted in the succeeding years have only served to underline his position as one of the greatest Swedish artists of the twentieth century. And yet on one level his art has since been eclipsed. The lively debate about his artistry and the content of his works fell silent, and it appeared as though Lundquist’s reputation had simply become institutionalised by the continual repetition of a received view. The art world, to the extent that one can refer to it as a homogeneous whole, prioritised other subjects for discussion – once again painting had been declared dead.
The interpretation of an artist should never be allowed to remain fixed in an image which only affirms what we already know. His or her works must continue to be discussed in the light of new experiences and contexts. When it comes to Evert Lundquist, I have long had a sense that there are interesting dimensions to his painting which are worth exploring and studying more closely – dimensions that are not part of the standard view and which can be approached by analysing how his works have been perceived previously and by using the painting itself as the direct source material for new selections and interpretations. Moreover, the position from which we see art today has changed somewhat from his period of greatness. The speed at which we live our lives, while connected to a rapid ow of images and always in continuous flux, makes me feel a fervent need for the unhurried, the mysterious and the specifically individual address of the work of an artist such as Lundquist.
A need that seems to be shared by many others and whose existence is further confirmed by the fact that the eternal battle over painting, without distinctions between figurative, traditional and contemporary forms, has been taken up once again within art.
On the Image of the Artist
Evert Lundquist was born in Stockholm on 17 July 1904. With two older siblings, he grew up in a “traditionally middle-class environment that was both comfortably proper and calm”. School, however, was somewhere he felt far from comfortable, and his Swedish education was interrupted in 1921 for a stay at a boarding school outside Dresden. His time spent there would prove important. German society was in a state of dissolution following the war. Lundquist took the opportunity to expand his cultural interests by becoming acquainted with a Germanic tradition of art and ideas. He read Goethe, Kant and Schopenhauer and made frequent visits to theatres and museums alike. During his time in Germany, Lundquist also began to study drawing and in 1924, two years after his return to Stockholm, he commenced his art education at Carl Wilhelmson’s painting school. The following year he was sent on a study trip to Wimereux and Neyrolles in France, where he painted mainly landscapes, and then on to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. When Lundquist won a place at Konsthögskolan (the Royal College of Fine Arts) in Stockholm in the autumn of 1925, Wilhelmsson had just been appointed to the post of professor there.
After the completion of his studies, Evert Lundquist held his first exhibition at Konstnärshuset in 1934 and received a mixed but encouraging reception. Two further exhibitions at Konstnärshuset followed at a fairly leisurely pace (1938 and 1941) before he mounted a retrospective presentation of his work at Konstakademien in 1944, which was considered to be “captivating”, “hard-boiled” and “inaccessible” and “so terribly exclusive that even Kylberg behaved properly”. His ultimate breakthrough had to wait until 1957 and his next exhibition at the same location when the critics described the show as a “magnificent panorama of a career that has been developing over fifteen years and is now at the zenith of its power and expressiveness”, while the Swedish newspaper Expressen printed the headline, “He is a Swedish Champion of Painting.” By now the pace of the exhibitions had picked up noticeably, and the 1960s would see his return to the Royal College of Fine Arts as a professor and a hectic period of international exhibitions. These included prestigious group shows in New York and São Paulo and one-man shows in London, Paris and Chicago.
By now Lundquist was enjoying broad recognition at home in Sweden among both critics and the public. He led a comfortable existence in his studio at Drottningholm outside Stockholm; a doyen of painting, he was a figure who commanded respect, dressed in his suit, with hat and pipe, and was highly regarded by his students. The public image of his working life was that of a career which had arrived at its maturity in linear fashion, developing slowly before ultimately reaching its final form. This Modernist idea of a development towards mastery was further encouraged by Lundquist’s own stories. In these he was equally concerned with talking about his own art and emphasising and cherishing his bourgeois status. There is a vast array of folders – in both the archives of the Nationalmuseum and the Studio Museum in Drottningholm – which contain notes, tape recordings and newspaper clippings about art interspersed with material of a more private nature.
The writings on his artworks, sometimes jotted down in haste and at other times meticulously typed out, contain almost maniacal analyses, recurrent attempts at categorising and describing the logic of his own artistic nature. As an example, he divides his artistic career into eleven periods between 1924 and 1957 in what he refers to as a “survey of the periodic nature of the development of the art and of the subsequent breakthrough”. By the 1940s he had already started sketching out the autobiography which would be published in 1984. All this work on his archives, his autobiography and also on his studio (which he donated to the state in 1987 and which is now a museum) is clearly addressed to future researchers and created in order to control his own image. As early as 1945, he was actually criticised in the press by Gustav von Platen for his meticulous recording of “every little shift and change of temperature” in his work and “for being self-involved to the point of narcissism”. Lundquist kept the clipping in his archive and underlined the latter quote, which also spurred him on to a longer addendum of his own in which he declares himself innocent of “any attempt at pursuing a detailed study of my art” and that his notes should not therefore “be judged in accordance with the requirements made of such a study”. He delegates any thorough examination of his work to “be carried out by the experts in art history”. However, a little further along on the same page he cannot refrain from adding, “Should these simple notes be of any assistance in providing an orientation in my work, this overview would then turn out to have been of value.”
Having access to this wealth of biographical material has been rewarding during my investigation, and there is no doubt that Lundquist’s own voice has been much appreciated by his biographers and interpreters. But while working on the archives and amidst all their references to the nature of the object, light, eternity and existence, I could not escape a powerful sense that Lundquist’s authoritarian voice had served to restrict the understanding of his work. The fact that he takes such pains to comment both on his work and on his private life convinces me that he is in fact concealing himself nervously behind a public stage instead of actually revealing anything. The existence of such a hidden side to his character is also suggested by those who knew Lundquist well. Ulf Linde writes in the preface to the second edition of Lundquist’s autobiography (published in 1996, two years after the artist’s death): “That’s right, it’s all true, that’s what he was really like – but… Would he really have painted the way he did if he were the person he recalled in his memoirs? There were other sides to him as well, darker ones, which he suppressed. When I admired the orderliness of his studio, he once commented drily that the discipline was essential – ‘I am totally chaotic after all.’” Torsten Andersson, a professorial colleague at the Royal University College of Fine Arts in the 1960s, goes a step further: “Three quarters of what is written in Sweden about Lundquist is about ‘the comfy-cosy’ image, about the slippers and pipe-smoking; the remaining quarter gets hushed up.
The remaining quarter is about an artist breaking away from the norms and conventions of his middle-class life. In Evert Lundquist’s case, this escape would occur at the restaurant table and, fortunately, in the studio as well.”9 But we are told no more than this, so what was Lundquist actually concealing behind that meticulously constructed self-image? There is much to suggest that he used his public role as a cultural figure and a professor to form a buffer against the private difficulties he suffered – in particular against the stressful, if self-imposed form of solitude that characterised his life, and against his feelings, I presume, at not having been a father more closely involved with his family. He and his wife Ebba Reutercrona, also an artist, had twins in 1947 but Lundquist would seem to have been quick to delegate all responsibility to his wife. When not travelling, he preferred to isolate himself in his work. When the twin sons were six years old, the rest of the family moved to a larger residence in Nacka. At the same time, Lundquist was offered a former electricity substation to rent as a studio and home, which he chose to move into that same year even though it meant further isolation from his family. It was not until five years later that the neighbouring building became vacant and the family could be united once again.
In his autobiography, he describes this period as one of “great distances and a couple of visits home between periods of work” and as “oppressive”, “essential” and “wonderful” by turns. Nine years later Hymme, one of his sons, disappeared without a trace on his way to the Gerleborg School in Bohuslän – “A great sorrow, but that is life after all. There are times of light, times of darkness, and of sorrow and of joy” – is the only comment in the notes.10 Manne, the other son, struggled to make his way as a self-taught artist while suffering periods of serious mental illness. Many people have testified to Evert’s own depressions, his predilection for alcohol and the rapid shifts between a warm and compassionate person and an acerbic and unpleasant figure. And yet there is almost no sign of any of this tumult either in Lundquist’s own writings or in the way he is received; the writings are entirely taken up with positive subjects, with his travels and successes. Nowadays, however, it is clear that these aspects can no longer be ignored and that Evert Lundquist’s private and, in parts, wounded nature is present in the artistic work where it forms a contrast to the more traditional and conservative side of his personality. It is only once this insight has been gained, in my view, that getting to grips with his art becomes really interesting and fascinating. For what is really compelling, the vital and affecting aspects of Lundquist’s oeuvre, is everything that transcends, contradicts and complicates any onesided attempt to read his work.
Image: Evert Lundquist, Koppen, 1988 © Evert Lundquist/Privat ägo
Maria Morberg Phone: +46 8 5195 5279 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Opening 16 January 2010
Island of Skeppsholmen, Stockholm
Hours: Tue 10-20, Wed-Sun 10-18
Price 80/60 SEK
Free admission for those 18 and under