Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Ernst Nilsson, Uppsala printmaker.

Ernst Vilhelm Nilsson

Swedish painter and printmaker

Today as promised a hardly outside his hometown of Uppsala known printmaker. Reading the biographies of most modern printmakers one cannot miss seeing the lines, ties, and influences from the first pioneering (color) printmakers (Dow, Fletcher, Brangwyn & Urushibara, Phillips, Kandinsky, Munch, Orlik) in England, France, Germany and America around 1900 and their first and second generation of students, schools and followers to this day. The skills of most famous and successful printmakers can be traced back to this handful of important and pivotal figures.

Born in 1892, Ernst Nilsson could have been such a second generation  printmaker-artist, but very little Scandinavian printmakers are amongst them. I know of none. Like many of his Nordic colleagues Nilsson was a self-taught printmaker and I would like to know what inspired and attracted him to the medium. 
 Uppsala's Chateau Borowiak, now the village theatre, photo 1936

Son of a mason and policeman Nilsson started his career as a housepainter and later joined the Technical School in Uppsala to study what I think was the equivalent of “Arts and Crafts”. This must have been the place where the inspiration to become a printmaker originated. Almost all of his work shows his hometown: the Swedish University city and centre of Uppsala. He never travelled far from home and other then these biographical notes there’s nothing more to be revealed, Nilsson died aged 45.

What I like most is the enviable way he is able to create depth and perspective in his views almost without the use of color or keyblock, just the grays and sometimes a faint orange roof or yellow glowing window lantern. I think his style is imediately recognizable and quite unique and I wonder how he came to develop it. Frank Brangwyn's  (1867-1956) mastery of light and dark in his prints, etchings and drawings is stylishly closest of what I can come up with.
Public bathing facilities in Uppsala

I’ve found this monochrome picture of the celebration by Uppsala students of the Walpurgis-night. The rituals of coming of spring on the night of April 30th exactly 6 months after Halloween. It’s from “Nordisk familjebok” first published in 1876, maybe it's a clue. The photo of 1960's celebrations is also taken in Uppsala.  Compare the student's traditional white hats in prints and photograph!

Many of Nilsson's prints show the jolly student life in his historic hometown and many of its historic buildings, the cathedral (dating back to the 13th century) and castle (building started in 1549). Uppsala University was founded in 1477 and is among the worlds oldest and the oldest in Scandinavia. 

 Woodblock print, watercolor study and recent photograph (detail). 

This print (and contemporary picture) of nearby Old Uppsala (Gamla Uppsala) is showing the historic medieval church and 5th century royal burial mounds. Now he is using shades of green instead of gray, some faint brown and one dark brown/orange accent. It is the exception and sadly the only colored example I was able to find.  
This next print is more than just a bathing nude watched by two dirty old men. It is both showing Nilsson knew his Old Masters and his very personal humoristic approach to printmaking. "Susanna and the elders" by Nilsson and Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

Nothing much has changed over a century in Uppsala ! Painting by Nilsson and a contemporary view.

All pictures freely borrowed from the Internet for friendly, educational and non commercial use.


  1. These are delightful!
    Thanks for finding him/his works and posting them for us to see. There is something so playful in the dancing/cavorting figures and his lively carving/cutting style is fresh and spontaneous.

    1. Thank you for stopping by Andrew, they are indeed playful, spontaneous and intimate. Nilsson deserved some attention I thought so too.

  2. Thanks for the info. I have four lithos that I inherited from my grandparents who livedbin Uppsala. I was born there but grew up in the US and they are charming reminders of my home town. Any idea what they are worth for insurance purposes?

    1. Hello!
      The worth? woodcut about 50-150 Euro.
      I think i have about 150 differnt painting/woodcut of him

  3. I have no idea about their worth Lisa, I was just taken in by them and the story of the maker, sorry.

  4. Hello!
    I have at least 150 of Ernst Nilsson paintings.
    I also have a lot og information about him
    He was my dads uncle.
    Some of the pictures are from my homepage :)

    1. What is your name Anonymous? I would love more information about Ernst Nilsson? You can email me at


  5. the mailadress do not work......

  6. My husband is Rune W Nilsson, Jr. and we have the print of the old church hanging in our home. It is wonderful to learn more about Ernst.

    1. Many thanks you for leaving a comment, and how nice you've found my humble contribution about this lovely artist.

    2. Then we are family.......Rune was my uncle...