August Strindberg, painter, photographer, writer
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August Strindberg, The Weeping Boy

August Strindberg, The Weeping Boy (den gråtande gossen), 1891.

August Strindberg, Manuscript for 'Inferno'

August Strindberg, Manuscript for 'Inferno '(Manuskript till 'Inferno I'), 1897.
Goteborg University Library

The Archipelago

In the early 1870s, the young Strindberg began spending his summers on Kymmendö, an island in the Stockholm Archipelago. It was to become his favourite place on earth. In his autobiographical novel Son of a Servant, Strindberg describes his first encounter with the dramatic beauty of the landscape.

'He saw an image that gave him goose-pimples of sheer delight. Islets and bays, reaching far, far away into infinity. Stockholmer though he was, he had never before seen the Archipelago…This vision made the same impression upon him as if he had rediscovered a country only previously seen in dreams, or in some past life, of which he knew nothing but in which he believed.'

The first grouping in this room is of the paintings Strindberg made in the Archipelago in 1873. They are carefully observed miniatures, portraying the sea and the barren landscape. These motifs – sea and sky, sparse vegetation and the clear line of the horizon – would stay with him and dominate his future paintings.

Only two examples of Strindberg's sculpture survive. The Weeping Boy of 1891 was originally intended to be a model of a boy praying. Strindberg recorded how, dissatisfied with the piece, he brought his hand down on its head. The hair was flattened into a cap; the head and neck were pushed down; the knees were brought together; “and the whole thing becomes a nine-year-old boy crying and hiding his tears with his hands.” It was an important step in the development of his ideas about the role of chance in artistic creation.

Travels Around Europe

Strindberg’s iconoclastic writing made him a revered figure among young radical artists in Sweden. The second part of this room includes a selection of portraits by some of his friends in the Swedish art world. They date from Strindberg's final years in Stockholm, where he returned after years of travelling.

His criticisms of the Establishment had always meant that his relationship with his homeland was fraught; and in 1883 he had left his native Stockholm to roam Europe, more or less living out of a suitcase. During this roving existence, he gravitated to artistic circles.

In 1892, following a painful divorce from his first wife, Siri von Essen, he moved to Berlin, where he became friends with the Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, who painted his portrait. He also met and married a young Austrian journalist, Frida Uhl. Their honeymoon took them to London, where Strindberg encountered Turner's landscape paintings. In a later questionnaire, he was to cite Turner as the English painter he most admired.

In 1895, Strindberg met the artist Paul Gauguin in Paris. Gauguin asked Strindberg to write a foreword for a forthcoming auction catalogue. Strindberg refused; but Gauguin was so struck by his letter of refusal that he asked if he might use it in the catalogue in place of a foreword.

Also displayed here are some of Strindberg's illuminated manuscripts, and some of his stage designs for his plays. Strindberg's strong visual sense meant he envisaged his plays very clearly before writing them. Indeed, many of his design sketches are for plays that he never wrote.