Eugène Jansson lived and worked in Stockholm, where he created images of Sweden’s waterbound metropolis of a haunting and melancholy beauty. From 1890 onwards he focused on panoramic nocturnal views of his city, capturing the mysterious, glowing northern light of the Swedish archipelago. By 1904 Jansson had exhausted his exploration of the Stockholm cityscape; and in that year he painted his final canvas in this vein. After 1905 he turned almost exclusively to painting male nudes, observing the rituals of naked men in Stockholm bath-houses and gymnasiums. His lovingly crafted studies of men swimming, working out with weights and practising gymnastics in the nude, singly and together, crackle with the spirit of the vitalist philosophy that was popular in his day. The startling blue line that follows the contour of the athlete’s body in Ring gymnast I seems both to illuminate and energize his gracefully contorted physique, investing him with a Neitzschean prowess.
Aware of the dramatic change in his style that they represented, Jansson at first worked on his male nudes in secret. The public unveiling of some of them, in 1907, brought a storm of both praise and condemnation. Reactions were no less divided when the artist exhibited a larger number of these paintings, in conjunction with the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games. Jansson, who never married, and lived his whole life with his mother and younger brother, was also a keen sportsman. He regularly undertook strenuous physical exercise, delighting in perfecting his own body, as well as observing other naked men.
Text by Dr Ted Gott from 20th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 22.