(Stockholm, 1868 – Arvika, 1948)
Trees frozen at dusk
Oil on canvas
110 x 132 cm
Signed lower right: G Fjaestad
– Bukowski Auktioner, Stockholm, Sale No. 450, 7-10 April 1987, Lot 37
– Stockholms Auktionsverk, Stockholm, 2 June 2015, Lot 2078
SAMO Donation December 2017
Whether an athlete, painter, tapestry designer, furniture designer or violin maker, Gustaf Fjaestad has managed to distinguish himself within his own country by sculpting chairs, armchairs and tables inspired by Art Nouveau and adapted to Scandinavian taste, but also in the United States, where his paintings of snowy landscapes, exhibited in New York in 1913, aroused extraordinary interest and led to the formation of the Group of Seven, an essential relay and driving force in the history of landscape painting in Canada and the northern United States. Before becoming a painter, Fjaestad was a top-level cyclist and speed skater and a member of Sweden’s sporting elite. He became world record holder for the English speed skating mile (1891) and won one of the most important Scandinavian bicycle races (Mästerskapsridt, 1892). However, he set his sights on an artistic career when he entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, where he soon attended the studios of two major artists of the late 19th century: Bruno Liljefors and Carl Larsson. He collaborated with the latter in 1893 for the creation of sets for the National Museum of Stockholm.
The first public presentation of his paintings took place in 1898 as part of an exhibition organised by the Union of Artists, while his first solo exhibition, which mixed paintings and handicrafts, demonstrating his interest in folk traditions, took place ten years later in Stockholm. His works were shown on numerous occasions in Germany, England and then, of course, in Sweden, and received an enthusiastic reception, which ensured his great popularity and undeniable economic success.
Gustaf Fjaestad did very little work in the capital, which he left in 1898 to found a group of artists in Rackstad near Arvika (Värmland region) in western Sweden. Made up of his wife, who was interested in textile art, and several artists who wanted to establish a strong contact with nature, the Racken group strives to paint the beauty of the vast expanses and the hilly and indented landscapes that form the basis of the Swedish identity.
Fjaestad remained very attached to it throughout his life and will be particularly identified with the snowy landscape motif, of which he offers dozens of variations, borrowing compositions and framing that are often very bold. His constancy in the choice of subjects and in their formal treatment makes it difficult to date the paintings.
Treated with the divisionist technique, frequently employed by Fjaestad before 1915, our painting clearly distinguishes itself from the more decorative late productions, by the originality and quality of its layout, which can be seen in the pre-war paintings representing the transparency of water in rivers seen from a diving perspective or trees caught in a gangue of ice. The artist experiments, researches, by proposing a new point of view – the branches in the foreground form a screen on three quarters of the canvas – and then by cutting out his motif with a network of circles opposing the vibration of the bluish-grey touches that animate the surface.
In order to capture the emblematic landscapes of Värmland, Fjaestad uses a stylisation of natural motifs, a simplification effect that gives the subject a great presence, in order to wrest some of the mystery from these vast territories. He occupies a singular place within the symbolist movement that affects the whole of Europe, including Scandinavia through the playwrights (Strindberg, Ibsen) who are particularly influential in the visual arts. Unlike the Finn Akseli Gallen-Kallela, interested in the Finnish epic, Fjaestad confronts the viewer with the landscape for himself and uses purely pictorial strategies (chromaticism, the application of matter) to symbolize the ephemeral nature of existence and its renewal.