August Strindberg1894

Nationalmuseum Sweden

Nationalmuseum Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

In his essay The New Arts! or The Role of Chance in Artistic Creation, Strindberg described how he painted his work Underlandet:

“During quiet moments, I paint. In order to master the material, I choose a medium-sized canvas or preferably a panel, so that I can complete the painting in two or three hours, as long as my inspiration lasts. I am seized by whatever subject comes to mind. I picture a shadowy forest, and beyond the sun setting over the sea. [...] with the palette knife that I use for the purpose – I own no brushes! – I spread the paints over the panel, and there I blend them so that I have something approaching a depiction of the scene. The hole in the middle of the canvas represents the sea horizon; now the forest interior expands outwards, branches, treetops grouped into colours, fourteen, fifteen, random but always harmonious. The canvas is covered; I step back and look! Well I never! I cannot make out any sea. The illuminated hole shows an endless perspective of pink and blue-tinged light, where airy, incorporeal, unfathomable beings float about like fairies trailing clouds. The forest has become a dark, subterranean cavern choked by undergrowth: and the foreground – let us see what we have there – rocks covered in lichens that you will not find anywhere else – and there to the right the knife has slicked the paints too much, so that they are like reflections on water – look at that! It is a pond. Excellent! What now? Above the water there is a splash of white and pink whose origin and meaning I cannot explain. One moment! – a rose! – The knife works for two seconds and the pond is ringed with roses, so many roses! A light touch of the finger here and there blends together the intractable colours, they melt together and dispel the harsh shades, thin them out, dissolve them, and there is the painting! […] The art of the future (which will disappear like everything else!). Capturing the essence of nature; above all capturing nature’s creativity!”

From August Strindberg, “The New Arts! or The Role of Chance in Artistic Creation”, Nationalmuseum exhibition catalogue, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, 2001 pp. 180–182

Strindberg had no formal artistic training. He only painted landscapes, but never while directly looking at the subject. The paintings were executed during periods when, for various reasons, Strindberg suffered writer’s block. Today his paintings sell at auctions for record sums.

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  • Title: Wonderland
  • Creator: August Strindberg
  • Date Created: 1894
  • Title in Swedish: Underlandet
  • Signature: A S. 94.
  • Physical Dimensions: w520 x h725 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Painting was, all in all, merely a parenthesis in the career of the author and playwright August Strindberg. After a tentative beginning in 1872, it was concentrated chiefly in the years 1892-94, 1901-02, 1903 and 1905. Strindberg had no formal artistic training, but developed extensive links with the world of visual arts. He was well acquainted with the progressive art of his day, thanks to his close dealings with a large number of contemporary Swedish and European artists, such as Richard Bergh, Ernst Josephson, Carl Larsson, Karl Nordström, Christian Krohg, Edvard Munch, Paul Gauguin and Alphonse Mucha. In the 1870s, Strindberg also worked as an art critic for the Stockholm press. In this area, he adopted a fairly conventional stance, but he also distinguished himself by his ability to understand and accurately characterize even artistic manifestations for which he felt little sympathy. August Strindberg’s painting portrays the topography of the soul, rather than the Swedish landscape, and stand entirely apart from the other artistic currents of the turn of the century. The only similarities lies in its subjectivity, although Strindberg went further than his contemporaries, both in this regard and in terms of technical freedom. As an amateur he could afford to experiment, one manifestation of this being his extensive use of a palette knife. His artistic method was one of spontaneous association, and he allowed one idea to lead to another in a kind of dialogue with his work, which he described in his remarkable essay on art theory entitled “New directions in art! Or the role of chance in artistic creation” (1894). Strindberg also turned his attention to other fields, such as science, alchemy and photography, and here, too, he proceeded by trial and error. An important key to understanding Strindberg’s painting is the therapeutic function. Often he had recourse to painting as a creative alternative at times when he felt unable to write. It is therefore natural to see an autobiographical dimenstion in the troubled, dramatic moods and dark colours of his pictures.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on paper