Monday, February 18, 2013

Mother and Son

Sigrid Hjertén  "Self-Portrait with Son"

Sigrid Hjertén (1885-1946) is now considered one of the great Swedish modernists, but she received  mostly scorn and disparagement from the art critics of her day, with only a few exceptions. She graduated from the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, intending to be a drawing teacher. However at the encouragement of her future husband, the artist Isaac Grünewald, she instead committed herself to the life of the "fine artist', a decision which she inaugurated by heading off to  France to study with Henri Matisse. Although impressed with the work of Matisse and Cezanne she herself leaned more toward an emotional rather than cerebral response to color, thus inadvertently allying herself with the German Expressionists such as Ernst KirchnerHjertén was known to speak of colors in a way that described the emotions they invoked within her by such phrases as "cold yellow", which I believe could be a symptom of a neurological condition known as synesthesia. Synesthesia can take different forms, and in Hjertén's case it might have been an unusual ability to interpret people and emotions through color associations.

Whether or not Hjertén actually had synesthesia (and this is purely a conjecture on my part) she did suffer from various "nervous conditions" which escalated in intensity until she was diagnosed with schizophrenia (a catch-all diagnosis at the time) and placed in care in a psychiatric hospital in Stockholm. She died of complications from an unsuccessful lobotomy in 1948, having not painted for almost the last decade of her life. 

In this painting Hjertén portrays herself with her young son, Ivàn, who watches her with the alert gaze of the intelligent child, as she attempts to paint while wearing a spectacularly plumed hat and a slightly dazed expression.  Although Hjertén's work draws association with that of Kirchner and some other German Expressionists, many of her works strike me as an oddly precurrent mash-up of the work of Florine Settheimer and of Alice Neel, raw emotion jostling with a theatrical  presentation and an almost eerie use of both color and line.

Note: I am unable to find the date this was painted, nor discover its current location. If anyone reading this has any information, please do contact me so I can include those details. Thanks!

1 comment:

Madame Zine said...