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August Strindberg, Alpine Landscape I (Alpinlandskap), 1894. Private Collection
August Strindberg, Night of Jealousy (Svartsjukans natt), 1893. Strindberg Museum, Stockholm
August Strindberg, The City (Staden), 1903. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm
August Strindberg, The Avenue, 1905. Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm
In 1893, Strindberg moved to Austria with his new wife, Frida Uhl. They lived near the Danube, and the paintings from this period, shown in the first section of this room, were inspired by the new landscape. Frida was pregnant, and a small house in the grounds of her parents’ house was being prepared for them. Strindberg painted pictures so that, as he put it, there would be something beautiful for the newborn baby to look at. Although Strindberg and his wife would ultimately fall out, this seems to have been a period of contentment.
The paintings themselves strike a new note. Alpine Landscape I, for example, shows a greater interest in perspective, with a contrast between foreground and distant prospect. Subtle distinctions are created between land and water: in The Danube in Flood and The Verdant Island II the shoreline merges with its reflection in the water. Strindberg and Frida had visited London on their honeymoon, and these techniques may reflect Strindberg’s new awareness of Turner’s landscape painting.
Strindberg was still drawn to nature at its most violent, and his seascapes of this time show dramatic collisions of water, wind and snow. Night of Jealousy, as its title suggests, is intended to convey mental torment as well as the fury of the elements. A dedication on the back of the painting reveals that he gave it to Frida as an engagement present. In Berlin, Strindberg and Frida had been part of a bohemian and sexually promiscuous group, and jealousies would inevitably have arisen. Strindberg was opposed to women’s liberation, and believed motherliness to be the greatest virtue in a woman. Paradoxically, he was always drawn to strong, emancipated career women.
The second section of this room focuses on Strindberg’s return, in 1899, to his native Stockholm, where he was to live until his death in 1912. The years between 1901 and 1905 were to be his last period of productivity as a painter. Once again, it was a time of crisis: his third wife, the young actress Harriet Bosse, was threatening to leave him. Married in 1901, the divorce was formalised in 1904.
In these last paintings, Strindberg turns away from the wildness of the Archipelago to observe the tamer, cultivated landscape of the city. Walking in the royal park near his home, he found fresh inspiration in the avenues, copses and fruit trees in blossom. One unique painting, The City, shows a city with a golden dome, set in the midst of a dramatic seascape, like Venice rising out of the Lagoon. Strindberg had visited Italy, and had seen Venice from a distance; he may have used this memory to create a tribute to Stockholm, another city on the water. Certainly the dark, stormy sky is typical of Strindberg’s Nordic landscapes. The city, glowing invitingly in the distance, poignantly conveys Strindberg’s own feelings of longing during his far-flung wanderings, and his characteristic sense of isolation.
One of the last of his known paintings, The Avenue, has especially symbolic significance, suggesting man’s journey towards death. The rows of autumn trees crowd in oppressively. With their roots like little feet, they seem to have taken on an almost human presence: like sentinels guarding the path that leads, as Strindberg put it, to ‘the great unknown’.