Yesterday, I showed some of the unusual if not unique nocturnes over the city of Stockholm painted by Eugène Jansson (1862–1915). Although commercial success was slow in coming, by the end of the nineteenth century, his paintings had become more sought-after, and he was able to travel a little after 1900.
In 1899, Jansson started to paint more views which he had memorised from outside his studio. This Motif from Timmermansgatan shows one of the sets of steps leading up to Mariaberg, where he had his studio, from this square in Södermalm, the southern part of Stockholm. This is set on a cloudy night, and the sky is full of the swirled forms of those clouds, which have been painted vigorously with some graffiti.
The Outskirts of Town (1899) is one of Jansson’s few daylight views of this period. He must have travelled out to some of the suburban blocks of flats which had been built in the midst of farmland. The sky and crops show his characteristic mixture of visible brushstrokes and scratches in the paint. The flats themselves appear uninhabited: as with his nocturnes, there is no sign at all of any people in this landscape. It is eery and deserted.
His Nocturne from 1901 returns to the more familiar waterfront of the central city, this time with little more than the sky, water, and a band of lights separating them. This could easily have been influenced by Vincent van Gogh’s nocturnes, such as his Starry Night over the Rhône from 1888, below, although Jansson is very unlikely to have seen one.
Jansson took to the streets again in his Hornsgatan by Night from 1902. This is a major commercial street in the city, which undulates its way up to the horizon, shown only by the gaslights and his curving brushstrokes and scratches.
Hornsgatan (1902) looks the other way, down the slope, into the brilliantly coloured light of early dawn.
Sunrise Over the Rooftops. Motif from Stockholm shows the winter of 1903, with snow lying on those rooves and smoke rising from chimneys.
I also have two undated paintings by Jansson, which appear to come from contrasting periods in his career.
Midsummer Night at Riddarholmen shows a sailing ship anchored in the Riddarfjärden, just below Jansson’s studio, and is perhaps his painting which is most strongly suggestive of influence from Edvard Munch’s Despair-Scream series, with its blood red sky just above the horizon.
At the Forest’s Edge is far more conventional than any other painting by Jansson that I have seen, and I suspect may date from much earlier in his career, perhaps in the 1880s. It appears to be a plein air oil sketch which he might have made out in the countryside.
Around 1904, when Jansson’s blue views were at their most popular, the artist confided to a friend that he was completely exhausted, and he stopped painting altogether for a while. He then turned to realist figurative painting, concentrating on scenes of naked men weight-training, and swimming at the navy bathing centre. These are strongly homoerotic, and it’s believed that both Eugène and his younger brother were active homosexuals, at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in Sweden.
Eugène Jansson died in 1915. Later, his younger brother destroyed all his letters and many other papers, presumably to avoid any scandal. The finest and largest collection of Jansson’s paintings is in the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, where these highly original paintings are still appreciated.