In their day they met with often harsh and unsparing criticism. They were subject to prejudice: Sigrid Hjertén for being a woman; Isaac Grünewald for being Jewish. Nonetheless Swedish art really turned modern with them. All summer ARKEN will be presenting works by the legendary Swedish artist couple who rank among the twentieth century's most important Scandinavian artists.
In 1909 the two Swedish artists Sigrid Hjertén and Isaac Grünewald went to Paris to attend Henri Matisse's school of painting. Two years later when they returned to Stockholm, they opened a window towards international trends in art and in a manner of speaking brought modernism back with them to Sweden. They broke with the naturalist tradition and introduced a style of painting with expressive lines, balance and rhythm. The most important aspect, however, was colour. It was the mainstay of the painting and was to infuse it with expression and temperament. The result was a brand new idiom, devoted to decoration – to what was pleasing to the eye. This they had learned from Matisse, and their paintings are manifestly influenced by him but also by other essential artists such as Marc Chagall and Paul Cézanne.
ARKEN's summer exhibition of the Swedish artist duo presents more than fifty works from the period 1910-1919. Hjertén and Grünewald had a feeling for modernity and were internationally oriented in both style and choice of subject matter. This is evident in their depictions of Stockholm as a modern, bustling metropolis with sophisticated entertainment, steaming trains and stylish cosmopolitans rushing along – exactly as in Paris. Just as often, however, the couple found their subjects in the near things: They depicted the quiet moments of work in the studio, their only child: the son Iván, the family vacations in Denmark, their friends and not least they painted themselves and each other.
Hjertén and Grünewald regularly exhibited in Sweden, Denmark and abroad. In their day, however, only a small circle of connoisseurs supported their art. They regularly met with opposition, and the conservative press in particular came down on the couple. Their art was deemed highly provocative, decadent and infantile. Grünewald's Jewish background occasioned many anti-Semitic attacks on both his person and his art. Yet of the two, he was the first to be accepted. He was a gifted painter, an avid debater and finally a man. Sigrid Hjertén's breakthrough did not occur for many years after her death. She was a woman and her style was considered by many as derivative of her husband's. Today, however, she is deemed the most interesting and sensitive of the two.
The artist couple led dramatic lives. They fell in love and married in 1911. As a woman Sigrid Hjertén had to struggle for artistic recognition while being an artist's wife and a mother. In the 1930s she became mentally ill, and the couple separated in 1937. Grünewald perished in a plane crash in 1946, and Hjertén died two years after from a failed lobotomy.
The exhibition of Sigrid Hjertén and Isaac Grünewald is mounted by Norrköpings Konstmuseum.
Father and Son, 1916