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No Greater Naturalist: Paintings of Bruno Liljefors, 2

Posted: 04 Mar 2018 04:30 AM PST

During the 1880s, Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939) excelled as a wildlife artist, and was appointed head of the art school in Gothenburg, Sweden, in succession to Carl Larsson. But his personal life was in turmoil, and the 1890s were barren years when he often ran short of money.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Common Snipe at its Nest (1891), oil on canvas, 25.5 × 35.5 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

His Common Snipe at its Nest from 1891 is a fine painting, but lacks the brilliance of his earlier work, with its loose backgrounds inspired by the work of Jules Bastien-Lepage.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Hooded Crows (1891), oil on canvas, 52 × 70 cm, Gothenburg Art Museum, Gothenburg, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

Hooded Crows (1891) captures these northern members of the crow family well, though.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Hunting Geese (1896), oil on canvas, 61 × 137 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Some of his finest paintings from this period are almost pure landscapes, such as his Hunting Geese (1896) with its superb mackerel sky.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Sea Eagle’s Nest (1907), oil on canvas, 200 × 180 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

He seems to have recovered his earlier form in the early twentieth century, as his new family grew around him. Spectacular paintings such as this Sea Eagle’s Nest from 1907 were often set around the fragmented coast of the Baltic. Although photographic technology was advancing rapidly, wildlife photography was still in its infancy: for instance, the National Geographic magazine published its first monochrome wildlife photos in 1906.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Winter Hare (1910), oil on canvas, 92 × 78 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

This is one of the many paintings that Liljefors made of a Winter Hare, here from 1910.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Long-tailed Ducks in the Outer Archipelago (1911), oil on canvas, 65 × 136 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

His later works include some substantial groups of birds, such as these Long-tailed Ducks in the Outer Archipelago (1911).

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Portrait of Zorn (c 1916), oil on canvas, 65 × 55 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

When Liljefors painted this Portrait of Zorn, in about 1916, his subject was in his mid fifties, the same age as the artist. Liljefors seems to have benefited from the long days and nights that he spent out in the country. Anders Zorn died four years later, at the age of only 60.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Autumn Landscape with Fox (1918), oil on canvas, 60 × 80 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1917, Liljefors moved his studio to the village of Österbybruk near Uppsala, but continued to work from hunting lodges when necessary. Some of his landscapes became more post-Impressionist, as seen in this Autumn Landscape with Fox (1918).

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Bean Geese Landing (1921), oil on canvas, 70 × 100 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

His dedicated wildlife works didn’t weaken, as he concentrated on coastal wetlands, as in these Bean Geese Landing (1921).

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Geese in Wetlands (1921), oil on canvas, 60 × 100 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Some of these late paintings have wonderful dialogues between the sky and water, as in these Geese in Wetlands (1921).

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Sea Eagles Chasing an Eider (1924), oil on canvas, 125 × 160 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Liljefors never lost his fascination for the relationship between predators and prey, as seen in his Sea Eagles Chasing an Eider from 1924.

Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939), Eider on the Islet (1937), oil on canvas, 48 × 68 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Eider on the Islet, painted in 1937, must be one of his last works from the coast.

Liljefors was also an accomplished gymnast, acrobat, and variety artist. With his two brothers, he formed the Manzodi Brothers, an acrobatic group who entertained Swedish audiences.

He died in Stockholm on 18 December 1939, a few months after the start of the Second World War. He had outlived Anders Zorn by almost twenty years.

Liljefors’ paintings have not, as far as I am aware, been generally recognised as Naturalist, although in 2016 Carl-Johan Olsson of Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum proposed that he was influenced by contemporary French Naturalist art such as the paintings of Bastien-Lepage. Recent accounts of Naturalism don’t include any references to Liljefors’ paintings, nor to the work of other wildlife artists of the time.

However, Liljefors’ art blossomed during the heyday of Naturalism. He was apparently influenced by Jules Bastien-Lepage and the art of the colony at Grez-sur-Loing, which was the heart of Naturalism. His paintings are robustly realist throughout, and their subjects are usually rendered in quite fine detail even though his settings are often more painterly. Olsson considers this to be his skilful balancing act in focus, apparent even in his portrait of his future wife Anna, for example.

Liljefors’ paintings explore the relationships between different species, particularly that between predator and prey, although he neither falls victim to sentimentality nor does he overdramatize. Indeed, his wildlife paintings are paragons of the objectivity which the late nineteenth century sought, and with which Naturalism was most concerned.

Could Liljefors have been a Naturalist painter of nature?


Wikipedia (in Swedish).
Carl-Johan Olsson (2016) Art Bulletin of Nationalmuseum Stockholm, vol. 23, available here.

Last Week on My Mac: What emergency? We’ve got serious photos

Posted: 04 Mar 2018 12:00 AM PST

Like much of Europe and parts of the US, last week we suffered some fairly extreme weather. In the early part of the week, we were walking on the nearby Downs on mud frozen like concrete in a biting north-easterly gale at -4˚C (25˚F). By the end of the week, after snowfall followed by freezing rain, even getting up to the main road had become dicy. Then temperatures soared, the snow vanished yesterday, and we were back to being soaked by rain.

It’s at times like those that the internet should be a tower of strength, but on this occasion information virtually dried up.


Most significantly, the UK Meteorological Office took its live weather pages offline, and their replacement offered the last televised weather forecast, or the alternative of using its iOS or Android apps. I wanted to see the rainfall radar, the pride and joy of the Met Office, which has recently completed an expensive upgrade taking ten years. The only way that I could do so was on the Met Office’s own app on my iPhone, or through a third party who pays the Met Office for that service.

The Met Office’s iOS app is not bad, but not a patch on being able to see the webpage. That app is free, provided that you suffer its adverts, which last week were promoting a Bitcoin and currency dealer. If you’re prepared to pay for its in-app purchase, you can dodge those adverts. But why should we have to pay the state weather service again for the information which it is supposed to provide freely?

The explanation on its website appears either disingenuous or incorrect. If demand on a website is high, it makes no sense to remove “some of the less visited pages”. When the Met Office’s forecasters themselves freely admit that they cannot forecast local snowfall, to remove the one source of accurate information and drive the public to use mobile apps from which the weather service profits is, well, profiteering.

I have previously expressed my doubts about the accuracy of popular weather apps such as Dark Sky, and the weather over the last week confirmed their near-uselessness in such rapidly changing conditions. Time after time Dark Sky told me that it was snowing when it wasn’t, or the opposite, and like broadcast forecasts kept falling back to vague generalities, which were also often wrong.

Our local newspaper, which has recently been sold to a large national group, also distinguished itself for its poor news aggregation. Having set up a live blog for what it called LIVE snow updates — travel, service information and pictures, that rapidly came to resemble my aunt’s Facebook page, plastered with photos of cute red squirrels in the snow, and people sledging in the centre of town.

The best information on travel and road conditions came not from what’s left of the local press, but from the transport operators themselves, in tweets. Although these have immediacy, and are supported by their own informative websites, they are hardly an ideal use of the media available, and no one was prepared to aggregate their content.

With three different ferry operators running services to the mainland, this requires you to track three separate Twitter accounts, or visit three individual webpages, to get a full picture of service alterations. Then there is the bus operator, the train service, the road maintenance contractor, and the local council. Although each of the operators performed superbly in the circumstances, no one seems prepared to aggregate their service information.

Central government walks away from this, referring us to the individual agencies. The agencies are now all looking to increase their revenue, to compensate for successive reductions in government funding. The local press laments its falling print sales, and tries to generate advertising revenue without putting much effort into its website.

If you could tell someone from fifty or a hundred years ago about our grim inability to make better use of the internet, they just wouldn’t believe you.