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Indepth Arts News:

"Elsa Beskow - A Swedish Childhood Picture Treasury"
2002-03-14 until 2002-05-26
National Museum
Stockholm, , SE

For a large number of Swedes, the first words they read came from Do You Want to ReadNULL a schoolbook by Elsa Beskow and Herman Siegvald. Its texts and pictures created a collective childhood memory for generations of Swedish schoolchildren. Much of what is thought of as 'typically Swedish' was formed for Swedes at the turn of the 20th century.

Elsa Beskow (1874–1953) was not only the most prominent Swedish children's book writer of her time, but also an established and innovative artist. She received her art education at the end of the 19th century at what is now the Stockholm School of Arts, Crafts and Design -- at that time the Handicrafts Association's school for handicraft artisans, illustrators and drawing teachers. Beskow would have preferred to study classic art subjects at the Art Academy but, limited by her family's modest income, she trained as a drawing teacher instead. She and the other students decorated furniture and worked with interior fittings. Beskow enjoyed working with ornamental illustration from different époques of design but would rather have been a freelance artist, difficult at the time for a married woman and mother. The principal figures in Elsa Beskow's books were often based on her own children, in both appearance and character. The detailed coloured pictures in her books were based on quick sketches, often in pencil, which were then re-done in watercolours with dark outlines done with a thin brush -- the finest lines done in pen and ink. Most of the books have a similar layout, with a picture on the right-hand page and text on the left, often framed by decorative leaves or flowers.

The exhibition also takes up Elsa Beskow's relationship with contemporary art. Her importance as an artist of the National Romantic style has not previously been given attention. Beskow's children's-book paintings of the Swedish countryside, especially the forest, have influenced the way several generations have looked at nature. Comparisons have been made to paintings by other, weightier Swedish artists, such as Prince Eugen and Bruno Liljefors, as well as to handicraft work by Alf Wallander and Gunnar Wennerberg. Using her motifs, the exhibition takes up contemporary attitudes towards children, gender and the class society. Modern children's-book illustrations by Gunna Grähs are also included in the exhibition. In a series of books about The Little, Little Cat, in collaboration with author Thomas Halling, Grähs has commented on Elsa Beskow’s The Story of the Little, Little Old Lady.

The Sun Egg
Elsa Beskow, (1874-1953)
Watercolour on paper

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