Cliff Holden

Documents: 1959


Art News and Review, January 1959

Among the Tate Gallery's recent acquisitions there is a painting called Woman in Red by the contemporary Swedish painter Evert Lundquist. It is a gift from Nils Tesch, Professor of Architecture at the Stockholm Academy, who has been an ardent collector of Lundquist's work for the past 20 years.

This acquisition is important, not only because it is an important painting, or because Lundquist is a unique figure in the Swedish art life, but because Scandinavian art is rarely seen in England. Even the Tate Gallery collection has hitherto been limited to the work of Munch and an insignificant sculpture by Karl Milles.

It is perhaps a curious coincidence that the temporary hanging at the Tate places Lundquist's picture alongside a large construction by Victor Pasmore. Constructivism, alternately called abstract, Klar Form or concrete painting, has been the dominant trend in Swedish art since the early forties when Otto Carlsund introduced the theories of Mondrian and Viking Eggeling. Since then 'Art Concrete' has been constantly revived by a whole group of young painters led by Lennart Rohde and Olle Baertling, drawing their stimulus more from Paris in such painters as Herbin, Magnelli, and Vasarely. As a trend it was a kind of social carpentry, an appendage and embellishment of architecture, which, if taken to a logical conclusion, would have ended in the domination of architecture and the death of easel painting. Fortunately these artists are not so dominant now as in the foregoing decade. A warmer wind has been sweeping through Sweden during the fifties, creating a climate in which the appreciation of the art of Lundquist has begun to blossom. But unlike the situation in London, this climate has little to do with American type painting… it is more homogenous, and as yet the influence of Tachism and Action painting is still confined to the pages of the art magazines. Responsibility for the new climate rests with what critical opinion has termed a New Expressionism, a loose term covering a wide variety of painters like Olle Carlström, Felix Hatz, Staffan Hallström, Per Lindekrantz, Lars Rolf, Torsten Renquist, and even Viking Svensson's organic variations on a theme of Poliakoff.

Renquist, late head of the Valand School of Art, and one time British Council Slade student under Prof. Coldstream, has been called the leader of the group. His early influences from Samuel Palmer through Nash to Picasso, quickly gave way to a closer study of Klee and Kandinsky, the Bauhaus and the older Swedish traditions. Staffan Hallström was the youngest member of the Saltsjö-Duvnäs Group which started around Lundquist in the early thirties. It was a group founded not so much on any basic principles as on a common bond of 'observed nature experience', it was more a geographical unit than a school of painting. Its members included Olle Nyman, Roland Kempe and Sixten Lundbohm, all of whom quickly achieved popular fame. None of the group were willing to submit to any group discipline and each went his own way until the group finally dissolved.

But Lundquist was the forgotten man in the Swedish art life. He was the old man in a new coat… the reactionary against the revolutions of the Academies... as he once put it. But although Lundquist suffered years of neglect, he did not, like his counterpart in England, David Bomberg, have to die before he was acclaimed.

Every ten years Lundquist has made a practice of holding a large scale retrospective exhibition in the Stockholm Academy of Art. The great exhibition of 1957 was the third of the series. It was the most impressive account that any painter of his generation could have given and it was received with an acclaim which has not been seen even in Sweden for a long time.

There appears to be an official reluctance in Sweden to sending exhibitions abroad, and even more so now since the whole consignment to Sao Paulo in 1957, including important works by Lundquist, was destroyed when the ship caught fire. Thus international recognition for Lundquist is slow to come. But there was a good response to the privately arranged Scandinavian show in Paris last summer, and as a result Lundquist will have his first one-man show in Paris next March.

Lundquist's consistent development has remained isolated but it is indicative of the international character of his work that we have to travel outside Sweden to find any corroborative statements. In London, the Borough Group, which I started in 1946, under the influence and guidance of David Bomberg, followed a very similar path. When the exhibition of part of this group (Creffield, Holden, Mead, Richmond) was arranged in Stockholm by Torsten Renquist in 1952, it was a revelation to meet Lundquist and to know his work for the first time. Exciting to be suddenly confronted with images less primitive than the Group, not so sophisticated as Bomberg, and yet stemming from a similar philosophical attitude, both in their theory and practice, and moving towards images identified in mass rather than in the anecdote of detail.

Lundquist's tonal range and heavy thick impasto reminds one of the work of Jo Tilson and those painters of the Beaux Arts Gallery that critical opinion has attributed to Dubuffet and 'L'Art Autre', whereas in fact, both Auerbach and Kossoff gained all their experience as practising painters from Bomberg. But it is a sad reflection that in such young painters the gimmick of the thick paint is the substitute for the vital image, merely the vehicle on which to hang an academic form. In the older painter Lundquist, the impasto comes about in the passionate wrestling with the material which he tries to bring to life in an image which each time is the result of a unique experience. In the simplification of his Motifs there is a parallel to non-figurative art, but Lundquist never becomes entirely abstract. Much of his work, and especially the paintings of the sea, anticipated by a number of years the later work of Nicholas de Stael, yet without falling into that morass of conflict between the figurative and non-figurative quality of images. Like Bomberg, Lundquist works towards a synthesis of the two attitudes. But his route has been devious, and more decorative, with echoes of Daumier, Goya, Lautrec, Degas, Renoir, Munch, and Matisse, although in the forties and fifties the real roots of his art can be found in Rembrandt, Turner, Masaccio, Chardin and Cezanne. Unlike Bomberg, Lundquist by-passed Cubism in his development, but this does not mean that he has no relation to Cezanne. Because Cubism arose out of a facet of Cezanne it does not follow that this was the only impulse, or that Cezanne, had he lived another 25 years, would have developed Cubism. Neither does it follow that abstract art in all its phases through Constructivism, Klar Form, or Concretism is the logical outcome of Cubism, the more able exponents of which never became entirely abstract. Writing in Svenska Dagbladet in 1951, Lundquist said, "The simple is really difficult, but that the art of the forties, which to such an extent proceeded in the sign of the circle apart from the triangle, should in the fifties attempt to work in the sign of the apple, need not imply that the artistic development should be accused of performing a volte-face, simply because it took a step backward, it advanced a considerable number of steps, while at the same time retaining its continuity and its own dignity, thus escaping 'the dilemma pictorial art', and saving the artist from his isolation in society... an escape to fresh air and nature and a spontaneous, warm-hearted contact between living people… and perhaps, finally, to the fatted calf away from the ancient but eternally modern gods of Parnassus." The painter who wrote this is not a naturalist, or a social realist, or one who plays to the gallery. He has experienced intensely 'the dilemma of art'.

Now that he, in common with the 20th Century, has reached maturity, he is convinced that abstract or non-figurative art is in a cul-de-sac, and will have to seek fresh paths.

Lundquist's struggle has been long. Never at any time could he have been described as naive or spontaneous and it took almost twenty years for him to break through from his academic background to his present maturity. In his youth Lundquist attended Carl Wilhelmson's school of painting, studying the draughtsmanship of Raphael and Leonardo, and then six years at the Academy before going to the Academie Julian in Paris where Ingres became his influence. The summer of 1924 was spent in France landscape painting, and he again worked there in 1931-32. But already at the age of 19 Lundquist had paused in front of the Parthenon frieze in the British Museum, a precursor to his latest admiration of Michelangelo, and in 1948 on a visit to Sicily the figures on ancient tombs and the simplicity of earthen jars means much to him. Lundquist has proceeded from the old masters and has returned to them, but with a different, more dynamic, view of nature than theirs. A view conditioned by modern physics, for if we accept that the world is both substance and movement, we are then faced with a paradox which demands a form, and a solution, very different to the classical one.

Ever since a visit to Dresden in the early twenties, Lundquist has been a keen student of German philosophy… especially Schopenhauer, and latterly of Wittgenstein. And it is perhaps with a quotation from the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that the work and aims of Lundquist are best summed up:

"The picture represents a possible state of affairs in logical space. The picture contains the possibility of the state of affairs, which it represents. The picture agrees with reality or not, it is right or wrong, true or false. The picture represents what it represents, independently of its truth or falsehood, through the form of representation. What the picture represents is its sense. In the agreement or disagreement of its sense with reality, its truth or falsity consists."

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