August Strindberg, painter, photographer, writer
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August Strindberg, The Vita Märrn Seamark

August Strindberg, The Vita Märrn Seamark IV (Vita Märrn II), 1901. Orebro Konsthall, Sweden

The open sea

In 1892, after a break of almost twenty years, Strindberg entered on his second, and most prolific, period of painting. Still focussing on the landscape of the Archipelago, these paintings are a far cry from his early naturalistic observations. Many feature a single man-made object at the mercy of the elements: a buoy in the midst of a stormy sea, or a startlingly white navigational mark against a tempestuous sky.

In his novel By the Open Sea, Strindberg's protagonist comes upon a white sea-mark on a dark cliff. 'This example of man's handiwork, out here, where no man could be seen; this reminder of the gallows, shipwreck and coal; this crude contrast between the unblended colourless colours black and white...seemed shocking, disturbing and brutal.'

Strindberg claimed that he was the first to paint symbolic landscapes, and it is possible to see these images as metaphors for his own isolated role in a hostile society. In his writing, he boldly attacked such pillars of the Establishment as the Royal Family and the Church, and questioned the institution of marriage; but the resultant charges of blasphemy and indecency left him bruised and embittered, with the sense that his creativity was under attack.

Later, in the early years of the twentieth century, he returned to the theme of the lone marker in a bare landscape. His images of lighthouses carried particular personal significance. In 1900 he had described, when sailing in the Archipelago, seeing a lighthouse appearing out of the dawn. He cited it as one of the happiest moments of his life, and one that offered him a vision of the future.