Tate Modern Level 4 West
17 February – 15 May 2005
On 17 February the first major British exhibition to focus on the paintings and photography of the Swedish polymath August Strindberg (1849 – 1912) opens at Tate Modern. A celebrated and prolific writer of novels, plays, poetry, scientific essays and letters, Strindberg has emerged in the latter half of the twentieth century as a precursor of modern art, although his work in the visual arts remains largely unseen in the UK.
The exhibition includes over sixty paintings and around thirty photographs. It also provides a rare opportunity to see Strindberg’s illustrated manuscripts, drawings and sculptures. Strindberg’s paintings fall into two main groups: one from the first half of the 1890’s; and the second from the first five years of the twentieth century. Strindberg’s periods of painting often coincided with times of trauma in his life, such as troubles in his relationships and when his capacity as a writer failed him. Strindberg frequently travelled abroad, and maintained a lifelong affection for the nature and population of the archipelago outside his native Stockholm. The sea, rocks, and beaches are main themes in many of his paintings. These highly emotive paintings can be considered autobiographical and present a fascinating insight into the life and personality of this extraordinarily gifted man.
Throughout his life Strindberg was interested in visual art and began his career in the 1870s as an art critic for a Swedish daily newspaper, in which he was one of the first to show an understanding for the development of Impressionism in Paris. Twenty years later, he was asked by his friend Paul Gauguin to write a preface for an exhibition. Strindberg’s letter of refusal was so eloquent that Gauguin asked his permission to use it in the catalogue.
In all that Strindberg wrote there was a strong visual element, in describing in the finest detail the sets for his plays and in the way he portrayed his characters, demonstrating that he was a keen observer of nature and human beings. Strindberg was as ahead of his time in his artistic endeavours as he was with his groundbreaking plays.
Strindberg’s paintings have been compared to those of JMW Turner but also with much later artistic movements such as expressionism. In 1894 Strindberg wrote an essay entitled New directions in art! Or the role of chance in artistic creation, in which he anticipated ideas explored in Dada and Surrealist circles over twenty years later. Strindberg not only had an individual and radical approach to painting, but also carried out extraordinary experimental work with photographic processes. One such example being his “photographs” of the stars which he created by placing prepared plates directly under the night sky and allowing them to develop without the intervention of the camera.
The exhibition is curated by Olle Granath, formerly Director of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm and a scholar of Strindberg’s work and Tate curator Helen Sainsbury. A fully-illustrated catalogue accompanies the exhibition and includes essays by the curator and other scholars, as well as selected writings by the artist (£19.99).
To coincide with the exhibition at Tate Modern, A Dream Play by August Strindberg will be staged at the National Theatre from 15 February 2005.