Wonderland 1894 by August Strindberg 72.5 X 52 Cm Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

By Glover, Michael | The Independent (London, England), December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Wonderland 1894 by August Strindberg 72.5 X 52 Cm Nationalmuseum, Stockholm


Glover, Michael, The Independent (London, England)


GREAT WORKS

There was a terrible, lifelong restlessness about August Strindberg. He was perpetually in conflict with Swedish society. In fact, his condition seemed to be that of a natural and habitual transgressor. Best known for his plays, he was also a memoirist, essayist, novelist, poet, actor, and a ceaseless, amateurish dabbler in the sciences.

He was also a painter of real distinction, and as with all his other endeavours, his paintings feel, always, not only like fragments ripped out of the pages of his own autobiography - do not his lonely trees on the shoreline generally feel like portraits of their painter in his habitual mood of testy, haunted isolation? - but also ways of fighting his way through to the essential truth of things.

In 1894, he proclaimed in a letter to a friend that he had discovered a way of making art that would be both a mirror of the artist's mind and a genuine attempt to frame a window on a common world. It would be both esoteric and exoteric, inward-looking and outward-looking. The word he uses to describe this new art is "double-bottomed", which means that it will comprehend an aspect that everyone can make out, and an esoteric one reserved for the painter and "the chosen few". This way of making would also involve chance, he announced, decades before the Surrealists embraced the idea of automatic writing and the aleatory impulse as things peculiar to themselves.

And so what we have here is a form of landscape, and it might even be described as idealised landscape, an Arcadian scene, though a thoroughly unspecific and indefinite one. Not indefinite, though, in the way that one of Turner's late scenes of Venice were indefinite. In spite of the fact that Turner's Venice of the 1840s is dissolving away into nothingness, we still feel the pull of the actuality in which it is ultimately grounded. We also understand that part of Turner's intention in painting in this way may have been to record the terrible, oppressive melancholia of a place in terminal decline from its centuries of greatness and political potency.

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