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.
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.