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oil on board
15 3⁄8 x 10 3⁄8 in. (39 x 26.3 cm.)
Painted in Passy, Paris in 1894
Captain Erik Nordenström, Gothenberg, by 1911, and thence by descent.
Anonymous sale, Norden, Stockholm, 6 December 1994, lot 74.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
G. Söderström, Strindbergs Måleri, Malmö, 1972, pp. 132-137, no. 74.
M. Borgström, Göteborgs-Posten, October 1994.
G. Söderström et al., Strindberg Painter and Photographer, Stockholm, 2001, p. 12 (illustrated).
G. Söderström, Strindbergs Måleri, Stockholm, 2017, no. 74, p. 193 (illustrated).
Gothenburg, Gnistan Culture Society, Frimurarelogens restaurang, 7 November 1894.
Gothenburg, Göteborgs Konstmuseum, Retrospektiva Konstutställningen 1861-1911, June 1911, no. 225.
London, Tate Modern, August Strindberg: Painter, photographer, writer, February - May 2005, no. 15, pp. 32 & 33 (illustrated).
Stockholm, Bukowskis, Strindberg at Bukowskis, May 2012.

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Claudia Schürch
Claudia Schürch Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Painting was an essential creative outlet for the Swedish playwright, novelist and poet August Strindberg, one he turned to repeatedly in sudden rushes of fervour, most notably during times of upheaval or uncertainty in his life. As many scholars have suggested, this creative outlet appears to have allowed Strindberg an opportunity to express feelings and emotions that he could not describe with words alone – it was an activity, he explained later in life, that allowed his ‘turbid emotions to take shape’ (quoted in Strindberg: Painter and Photographer, exh. cat., Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, 2001, p. 93).

While Strindberg had first explored painting in his mid-twenties and often sketched during his various trips both within Sweden and abroad, it was in the early years of the 1890s that he fully embraced the practice, returning to painting in oils after a gap of almost twenty years. Producing a series of Romantic, mysterious landscapes in thickly worked layers of unmixed pigment, he sought to move beyond a naturalistic depiction of the world, and instead convey his own expressive and symbolic vision through his art.

Painted shortly after Strindberg’s move to Paris in the autumn of 1894, Ruin comes from an important series of compositions executed in a sharp burst of intense creativity. The canvas takes its inspiration from the first painting the artist ever created in 1872 when, struck by a newspaper illustration depicting the ruins of a castle in Scotland, Strindberg attempted to translate the scene into paint. In his autobiographical novel Tjänstekvinnans son, he describes the effect this activity had on his alter-ego Johan, the act of creating an image through simple strokes of his brush instantly captivating him: ‘When he managed to get the blue colour to look like sky, he was gripped by sentimentality, and then when he conjured up the green bushes, he became irrevocably happy…’ (quoted in ibid., p. 11).

In Ruin Strindberg revisits the motif, copying its tumbling stonework and jagged profile through his bold new painterly language, filling the canvas with broad passages of heavily impastoed pigment. During these years he was fascinated by the physical qualities of his paints, their materiality and structure as he worked them with both a palette knife and brush. Here, the sky is filled with swirling passages of pigment that convey the texture and opacity of the blanket of clouds, while below, a broad heath spreads out around the ruins, its surface alive with quick, flickering brushstrokes of variegated greens, blues, golden browns and flashes of red, as the eye drift towards the mountains in the distance.

Though rooted in an initial figurative motif – in this case, the ruins of the castle – Strindberg allowed himself to be diverted through the act of painting. Open to chance, he followed the paths of the pigment as it moved across the canvas and responded intuitively to his materials, resulting in unexpected forms that were rooted in the artist’s own spontaneity. Describing his technique, Strindberg explained how his vision often shifted and changed in front of the canvas, driven by his interactions with the pigment: ‘A slight touch here and there with my finger, blending the resisting colours, fusing and banishing any jarring tones, thinning, dissolving, and there’s the painting!’ (‘New Directions in Art! Or the Role of Chance in Artistic Creation’; reproduced in ibid., p. 181). By embracing spontaneity, and relying on his own inner impulses to determine the direction of his painting as he worked, Strindberg pioneered a method of instinctive, automatic creation, decades before André Breton defined ‘pure psychic automatism’ in his 1924 Manifesto of Surrealism.

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