Snowy landscape

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Hilding WERNER

Kårud, Sweden 1880 - 1944

Snowy landscape, c. 1910

Oil on canvas, 131, 4 x 117,3 cm

Signed lower right: H. Werner

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Hilding Werner, a Swedish turn of the century painter, was born in Kårud, a small village in the captivating landscape of Värmland, bordering Norway. At the age of 19, immediately after concluding high school at Karlstads Läroverk, the young talent entered Caleb Althins Art School in Stockholm. He got employment as a caricaturist at the illustrated satir magazine Nya Nisse (Stockholm 1891-1919), as a way to support himself economically during his studies in the Swedish capital. Bror Lindh, another notable Swedish national romantic landscape painter, was a maternal relative as well as a roommate to Werner during art school, and introduced him to the atelier of Richard Bergh, at that time a famous artist. Bergh, originally from Stockholm, had visited the then famous French artist colony in Grez-sur Loing, that drew several Sweden and English painters during the summers of the 80s of the nineteenth century, and where he refined his artistry. Initially an en plein-air impressionist painter, he moved subsequently towards a more national romantic/symbolist type of representation, step by step, under the influence of Arnold Böcklin, among others. On his return to Sweden, to express his dissatisfaction with the conservative Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm, Bergh started the Artists Association School. Hilding Werner enrolled in Bergh’s progressive art school in 1900, where, among his distinguished teachers, we also find the famous and productive Anders Zorn (1860-1920) and Nils Kreuger (1858-1930). The motifs, according to Bergh, were to be sourced in the Nordic Nature. He advised his students to close their eyes in front of a motif, aiming to internalize their visual impressions in order to “poeticize it”[1] and “with feeling, so as to discover the unity”.
Hilding Werner returned to Värmland in 1907 where he established his own artistic practice in a small village, Hammartjärnet i Stömne, In this county he found his most treasured subjects: panoramic views of vast lakes, surrounded by dense forests and blue hills in the distance, glowing at the time of twilight. Or as here, heavily snow-covered quiet forests, expressing his love and worship of the Swedish nature. The art of Werner was to become profoundly associated with this enchanting territory of great natural beauty.
Hammartjärnet was not too far from the notable Rackstad Colony, in the wilderness outside Arvika.   The colony, founded in 1897 by the carismatic and internationally successfull figure Gustaf Fjaestad (1868-1948) had gathered numerous talented painters, sculptors and craftsmen. An extremely productive, boundary-crossing reality, where the artists aimed to realize the Arts and Crafts movements utopian ideas and practiced a coopertive lifestyle[2]. Both Werner and Fjaestad had that aim and longing to interpret a spirituality that was only to be found in nature, according to their theorical symbolist convictions. In their ambition to impart fundamental deep truths to the viewer, both of them are certainly to be considered amongst the most important symbolist painters of their generation, pointing convincingly the way forwards. But although their friendship led to mutual influence, Werner did not enjoy the same renown during his lifetime as Fjaestad, although his work was of quite equal quality. They differed in certain aspects; while Fjaestad’s works had a pronounced decorative Art Nouveau imprint, Werner seemed more inclined to magnificent lyricism, as we easily can perceive in his symphonic, landscape twilight panoramas. Another strong influence to Werner was without doubt the international awarded Otto Hesselbom (1848-1913). Their motives and vast perspectives have undoubtedly a lot in common. In Werner’s work though, one can easily detect a clearer skillfulness in French post-impressionistic handling of the paint. A sophistication, a softness and fresh tidiness that Hesselbom somehow lacked. A heritage surely trasmitted to Werner by his former teacher Richard Bergh. An important aspect to be considered while comparing the overall quality of these two artists that at first glance could appear very similar.
In the specific context of ”emotional art”, an expression that neatly grasps the overall sense of the Symbolist process, the painting here presented truly seems particulary successful. At first glance, a classically beautiful winterscene, distinctly ”Swedish”, typical for the above-mentioned circle of Värmland artists. A decorative, delicate play with lace-like snow-patterns and organic Art Nouveau gracefully curving lines. But soon one begins to perceive the profounder, more universal sense, emerging from the silence in that snowy, glittering forest. A common, deep longing to live in harmony and in spiritual dialogue with nature… That search for inner peace that Werner, a true loner, probably only could find out there, in the purest, most untouched wilderness. The painting as a whole, resembles a scenographic backdrop, where the only actors present are the trees themselves: bold pines in the front row, more discreet firs in the back row. All wearing gracious white winter coats. The viewer can´t but long for that calm, for that identification with nature, so basically present in the Swedish culture up to this day. To point out, finally, the artist’s amazing skillfullness in exploring the varying colours of a winter forest as revealed to him by light. Thereupon an exceptionally vibrant play with blue, white and gentle orange hues, revealing an admirably well-trained eye and a masterful colour perception. A truly suggestive twilight mood, so unique and representative of the Symbolist artists from the north of Europé of that specific period!


[1] Bergh, ”Nordic nature and Nordic Art” p.119

[2] Michelle Facos, Nationalism and the Nordic Imagination of the 1890´s

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