In the first of these two articles commemorating the brief life and paintings of the Swedish artist Karl Oscar Isakson (1878–1922), I had reached the years of the Great War, a time when Isakson suffered mental illness. He spent much of his time on the Baltic island of Bornholm, the easternmost part of Denmark, where he painted its landscape. He also started work on a series of religious works about death and resurrection.
This Still Life from about 1918 shows his style becoming even sketchier, with a visible Cubist influence.
Just after the war, Isakson painted a series of standing nudes which are among his best-known works now.
Standing Nude dates from 1918-19, with a tense, angular model beside a table.
Standing Female Nude (1918-20), now in Copenhagen, appears muted in chroma, with the model’s pose reversed.
The Helsinki Standing Female Nude (1918-20) is very similar in composition and form to that in Copenhagen.
The Raising of Lazarus from 1920-21 is one of Isakson’s religious paintings from his final years. The story of Lazarus is one of the more popular miracles in the New Testament, although it’s only contained in the Gospel of Saint John (chapter 11, verses 1-44).
Christ is told that Lazarus has fallen ill, and his two sisters seek his help. However, Jesus tells his disciples that he intends waiting for Lazarus to die, so that God can be glorified. He then delays for two days before returning to Bethany, by which time Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. His sisters and the village are still in grief and mourning, so Jesus asks for the stone covering Lazarus’ tomb to be removed. Jesus them commanded Lazarus to come out of his tomb, and Lazarus emerges, still covered in the linen cloths used for burial, the moment shown here. Jesus tells the people to remove those cloths and let him go.
View over Gudhjem (1921) shows this small fishing town on the north coast of the island of Bornholm, and is typical of many of his later landscapes.
I also have two of his still life paintings for which I have no dates.
Orange Plant appears to be one of Isakson’s earlier paintings.
Potted Plants looks to be later, and has exuberant flowers.
In January 1922, Isakson applied for a newly established Swedish scholarship. Tragically, he then caught influenza, and died on 19 February 1922, a century ago today, at the age of only forty-four. It wasn’t until the contents of his studio were examined that others realised how prolific he’d been: there were hundreds of rolled-up canvases there, some painted on both sides. These supported a large memorial exhibition to him, which was held in both Stockholm and Copenhagen.