The artistic patrimony of the town where I live is, to be frank, none too inspiring. My first impression on visiting the municipal art gallery was that its permanent collection had an apologetic ‘sorry, but this is the best we could scrape together’ air about it, with portraits of local dignitaries jostling for wall-space with unimpressive maritime scenes, drab townscapes, and angst-filled, impastoed abstracts. One painting, however, caught my eye, and I spent the greater part of my visit staring at it. This was a small, informal portrait, of a blonde-haired girl with sad-looking eyes (see fig. 2 below). From the caption I learned that it was painted ca. 1906, that the girl’s name was Julia Hasselberg, and the painter’s, Eva Bonnier.
Eva Bonnier was born in Stockholm, 1857, into a wealthy, upper middle-class Jewish family. Her father, Albert, was a successful and influential publisher (the company he founded is still one of the largest Swedish publishing concerns today, and is still run by the Bonnier family). From 1875, Eva studied at a private art academy, later enrolling in the Women’s Department of the Kungliga Akademien för de fria konsterna, the Swedish Royal Academy of Art. In 1883 she moved to Paris, apparently one of more than fifty Nordic women artists studying and working there at that time. She attended classes at the Académie Colarossi and painted: these years in Paris were by far her most productive.
While in Paris, Bonnier met a sculptor named Per Hasselberg with whom she had a ‘complicated relationship:’ the couple were to be married, but their engagement was broken off in 1892, by which time she was back in Stockholm, trying, with only limited success, to establish herself as a portraitist. In 1894 Hasselberg died suddenly, leaving a new-born illegitimate daughter, Julia, who Bonnier adopted. The sad-eyed girl in the portrait must therefore have been about twelve years old when she posed for her adoptive mother. Shortly afterwards, Bonnier abandoned her attempts to make a career from painting. She is reputed to have been an intelligent, strong-willed and sharp-tongued woman who ‘could neither in private nor as an artist charm or flatter her contemporaries.’
Although no longer a working artist, Bonnier remained active for some time in public life, but, after the turn of the century, she gradually wihdrew into isolation. In 1909, she took her own life. Although she was never quite a virtuoso with the brush, her portraits nevertheless seem acute and ‘true,’ yet not unsympathetic. My source for all but one of these images and for most of the information above is a book by Margareta Gynning entitled Det Ambivalenta Perspektivet: Eva Bonnier och Hanna Hirsch-Pauli i 1880-talets konstliv. Fig. 2 I scanned from a postcard print I picked up at the Blekinge Museum, where the painting is currently on display. Some more of Bonnier’s paintings can be seen reproduced here and here. There is an exhibition devoted to her work running currently at the Thielska Gallery in Stockholm.
Posted by misteraitch at July 24, 2007 03:12 PM