I’ve known a little bit about August Strindberg (1849-1912) as a playwright and a novelist. Some have described him as the father of modern Swedish theatre. Until recently, I knew nothing about him as a brilliant painter and photographer. In fact, few outside his native Sweden know about his paintings: in doing research about his work, I found that a lot of sources about Strindberg completely ignore this part of his art. It was absolutely fabulous to discover his paintings!
Strindberg painted mostly when he struggled with his writing, in the 1890s and early 1900s. He painted the sky and the sea and the land with vigorous brush strokes, in dark colours which were likely a reflection of his mood at the time. In an essay from 1894 called “Chance in Artistic Creation,” he describes how he chooses “a middle-sized canvas… so that I can finish the painting in two or three hours, for as long as my mood lasts”.
August Strindberg’s paintings were years ahead of their time, more akin to paintings by abstract expressionists than works by a late-nineteenth century Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, photographer and painter.
In early 2005, almost 100 years after his death, the Tate Modern held a major exhibition of Strindberg’s paintings and photography.