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Sigrid Hjertén ~ Modern Expressionist painter

Sigrid Hjertén [27 October 1885 - 24 March 1948] was a Swedish modernist painter. Hjertén is considered a major figure in Swedish modernism. Periodically she was highly productive and participated in 106 exhibitions. Sigrid Hjerén's total production amounted to slightly more than 500 paintings, together with sketches, watercolors and drawings. Hjertén had to fight the prejudices of her time throughout her career. Her paintings seem extremely personal for the era in which they were made, when issues of colour and form were uppermost in artists' minds. Her interest in humankind was often manifested in dramatic, even theatrical compositions, while her approach to colour was emotional as well as theoretical. She worked as an artist for 30 years before succumbing to complications from a lobotomy for schizophrenia.

Sigrid Hjertén was born in Sundsvall in 1885. She studied at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm and graduated as a drawing teacher. At a studio party in 1909, Hjertén met her future husband, twenty-year old Isaac Grünewald, who had already studied one year with Henri Matisse in Paris. Grünewald convinced her that she would do herself more justice as a painter. Later that year she went to Matisse's art school as well.

As she studied under Henri Matisse in Paris, she was impressed by the way he and Paul Cézanne dealt with colour. This shows in her painting in contrasting colour fields and simplified contours, her way of achieving the greatest possible expressiveness. Her aesthetic intentions had primarily to do with colour, and in her later works from the 1930s she spoke of colours in terms such as cold yellow. Hjertén strove to find forms and colours that could convey her emotions. In that respect her work is more closely related to the German Expressionists, such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, than to the French painters, with their graceful play of lines.

After a year and a half she returned to Sweden. In 1912 Sigrid Hjertén participated in a group show in Stockholm. It was her debut exhibition as a painter. In the following ten years she took part in many exhibitions both in Sweden and abroad, among other places in Berlin in 1915, where she was well received. Sigrid Hjertén was also represented at the Expressionist Exhibition at the Liljevalch's konsthall in Stockholm in 1918, together with two other artists. However, the contemporary critics were not enthusiastic about her art.
In Hjertén's art, where she greatly exposes herself, one notices different stages of development. The influence of Matisse is perhaps mostly discernible in the 1910s. During this decade, Hjertén created many paintings with indoor pictures and views from her home, first at Kornhamnstorg Square and later at Katarinavägen Street, in Stockholm. Her husband Isaac Grünewald and her son Ivàn, as well as Sigrid herself, are often depicted in scenes that embrace various sorts of conflicts. At this time Sigrid Hjertén got acquainted with and inspired by the art made by Ernst Josephson during his illness.

Ateljéinteriör (Studio interior) from 1916 shows how radical Hjertén was for her time. The painting describes the roles she played as artist, woman, and mother: different identities in different worlds. Hjertén sits on the sofa between two artists-her husband, Isaac Grünewald, and, perhaps, Einar Jolin-who talk to each other over her head. Her large blue eyes stare into the distance. In the foreground a woman dressed in black-a sophisticated alter ego-leans against a male figure who might be the artist Nils von Dardel. Her son Ivàn crawls out of the right-hand corner. In the background we glimpse one of Hjertén's paintings of the period, Zigenarkvinna (Gypsy woman). Studio Interior and Den röda rullgardinen (The red blind) from 1916, are daring paintings that have given rise in recent years to new interpretations based on contemporary gender studies and revealing information about the artist's private life.
Between 1920-1932, Sigrid Hjertén and her family lived in Paris, and made many excursions to the French countryside and the Italian Riviera for painting. This was a relatively harmonious era in Hjertén's art, but her exhibits were very limited in this period. Her husband often visited Stockholm where he had a brilliant career. In the late twenties Hjertén increasingly suffered from various psychosomatic ailments, and she complained of loneliness.

As time passed, an increasing tension can be seen in her art that successively rises and reaches its height immediately before the disease forces Sigrid Hjertén to cease as an artist. In the late twenties, while she was very isolated in France, colder and darker colours began to show. Recurring diagonal strokes helped to give the paintings a tense impression. During the thirties Hjertén painted innovative paintings which are characterized by menacing tones, growing storm clouds, and feelings of abandonment.
In 1932, Sigrid Hjertén decided to return to Stockholm. But during packing she collapsed. She got to Sweden and was temporarily taken to the psychiatric hospital of Beckomberga with symptoms of schizophrenia. She recovered periodically and in the two following years (1932-1934) Hjertén's artistry culminated in a crescendo, where, like one possessed, she made pictures that expressed strongly loaded feelings. She devoted herself to intensive painting, creating one picture a day, the picture-book of her life, according to an interview in the Swedish art magazine Paletten. Some paintings radiate horror while others give a warm and harmonious impression.

During 1934, she traveled with her family in the south of Europe, where she painted. Sigrid Hjertén eventually made her name as an artist among the critics in 1935, when she exhibited with Isaac in Gothenburg. Yet, most contemporary critics had a negative and even scornful attitude towards Sigrid Hjertén's works of art, and many of them wrote deeply offensive reviews. Among other things her paintings were called idiocy, humbug, horrors and products of handicap. She won public recognition only in 1936, when she had a well received solo exhibition at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm. Isaac, who had many mistresses over the years, divorced Sigrid and remarried. (Both Isaac and his new wife later died in a flying accident in 1946).

At that time, Sigrid suffered from escalating mental illness, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and was permanently hospitalised at Beckomberga Psychiatric Hospital in Stockholm, where she remained for the rest of her life. After 1938 her artistic output dwindled. Following a botched lobotomy, she died in Stockholm in 1948.

Sigrid Hjertén (Sundsvall, 27 ottobre 1885 - Stoccolma, 24 marzo 1948) è stata una pittrice svedese. Sigrid Hjertén nacque a Sundsvall il 27 ottobre 1885.
Dopo i primi studi d'arte a Stoccolma, nel 1909 conobbe il suo futuro marito, il pittore Isaac Hirsche Grünewald, che sposò nel 1911.
Per studiare pittura col maestro Henri Matisse, i due artisti andarono a Parigi, dove Hjertén rimase particolarmente colpita dal modo in cui Matisse e Paul Cézanne trattavano il colore.
Tuttavia Hjertén non si accostò mai pienamente alla pittura francese, preferendo l'Espressionismo tedesco, in particolare quello di Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: cercando di trovare forme e colori che potessero trasportare su tela le sue emozioni, Hjertén usò allora campi di colore contrapposti con contorni semplificati.
Nel 1912 tornò a Stoccolma col marito, dove cercò di portare le innovazioni artistiche internazionali, rompendo con la tradizione naturalista per concentrarsi sui propri sentimenti e introducendo uno stile caratterizzato da linee espressive, equilibrio e ritmo.
Ma l'aspetto più importante della sua arte fu il colore, visto come mezzo per dare espressione e temperamento alle sue opere; in questo si rintracciano influenze di Henri Matisse, di Marc Chagall, di Paul Cézanne e in parte di Ernst Josephson.
Tra i soggetti preferiti vi è la città di Stoccolma, descritta come una moderna metropoli simile a Parigi, e immagini familiari, soprattutto interni della sua casa in cui spesso compaiono il marito ed il figlio.
Tra le opere del periodo spicca Ateljéinteriör (Interno di atelier) del 1916, in cui Hjertén rivela le difficoltà che ebbe nel combinare le sue differenti identità di artista, donna e madre: è seduta fra due artisti che parlano tra loro, suo marito e Einar Jolin, mentre in primo piano una sofisticata alter ego vestita di nero si intrattiene con l'artista Nils Von Dardel.
Molti critici del tempo, in particolare quelli più tradizionalisti e conservatori, attaccarono aspramente la sua arte, vista come provocatoria, decadente ed infantile.
Molte delle critiche che ricevette erano frutto del pregiudizio in quanto donna; Hjertén dovette lottare per tutta la vita per il proprio riconoscimento artistico, da molti considerato una semplice variante di quello del marito, anch'egli vittima di pregiudizi in quanto ebreo.
Negli anni '20 il suo matrimonio entrò profondamente in crisi: mentre lei passava molto tempo a Parigi, facendo continue escursioni nella campagna francese e nella Riviera italiana per dipingere, il marito visse principalmente a Stoccolma, dove cominciò a condurre una brillante carriera.
Questo fu un periodo relativamente armonioso nell'arte di Hjertén, che partecipò a diverse esposizioni.
Tuttavia verso la fine degli anni '20 i suoi disturbi psicosomatici aumentarono, acuiti dalla solitudine.
Col passare del tempo nella sua arte si nota una crescente tensione che la porta ad usare colori sempre più freddi e scuri, stesi con ricorrenti colpi di pennello diagonali, che contribuiscono a dare alle pitture un senso di angoscia.
Nel 1932 tornò a Stoccolma, continuando a dipingere in modo innovativo opere caratterizzate da toni minacciosi, in cui spesso compaiono nubi di tempesta che danno un senso di abbandono.
Negli anni seguenti la sua arte si fece sempre più espressiva e fortemente carica di significato, quasi a voler acquistare padronanza del proprio caos interiore attraverso il lavoro artistico.
Si dedicò intensamente alla pittura, creando anche un'opera al giorno, in cui si riflette il suo stato d'animo del momento: per questo motivo sono tra loro molto diverse, alcune irradiano orrore mentre altre danno un'impressione calma ed armoniosa.
Dopo il divorzio dal marito nel 1937, la sua salute mentale peggiorò: per l'intensificarsi della malattia mentale, diagnosticata come schizofrenia, fu ricoverata in un ospedale psichiatrico di Stoccolma, dove rimase per il resto della vita.
Dopo il 1938 la sua produzione artistica diminuì.
Hjertén morì a Stoccolma il 24 marzo 1948 per le complicazioni di una lobotomia fallita.