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Det vildas rike

(The Wild Kingdom)

“Telegraphic offer of 800 dollars for “Räfvar” New York. If you approve I will sell the painting and give you another. Liljefors”

The telegram from Bruno Liljefors to Pontus Fürstenberg in March 1894 was, of course, about one of the artist’s most famous works, the painting “Räfvar” (Foxes) from 1885. The painting was at that time hanging in the Fürstenberg Gallery in this building, but the generous patron quickly telegraphed back: “Accept offer. Our position can be settled in writing. F”.

The wild animal kingdom of the Swedish forests was an obvious subject for the natural romantic art of the late 19th century. And it was Bruno Liljefors who became Sweden’s great portrayer of the wild kingdom. Unlike the previously often idyllic depictions of nature and animals, Liljefors wanted to portray the reality of wild animals, their movements in the wild and that struggle to survive.

In this room, we come close to exploring nature, the changing seasons and the secret world of animals. This is the colourful realm of wildlife, where only an artist’s gaze, pen and brush can convey men’s great love of nature. Here, elusive nature becomes accessible to city dwellers – a haven amidst the bustling city.

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Bruno Liljefors later wrote to Fürstenberg to thank him for his understanding regarding the sale of “Räfvar”. Whether he eventually painted a new version of the painting for Fürstenberg and got his “800 dollars” is a story we’ll leave for another time. But Pontus Fürstenberg was not just a patron with deep pockets to lend money from. Of course, he encouraged the artists in his stable to pursue success on their own. And yes, it was in Fürstenberg’s interest to see Liljefors represented in America.

Bruno Liljefors, together with Anders Zorn and Carl Larsson, is among the most famous and popular fin-de-siècle artists. This may be because they all occupied themselves with motifs that at the time were perceived to be supremely Swedish. Anders, with his nude Dalarna women, Carl and his wife Karin with their classic depictions of homelife and Bruno, who stepped straight into the Swedish forest.

Bruno Liljefors was not bound by the principles of impressionism to paint his subjects in their proper time and setting. Instead, he took both wild and dead animals back to his studio and painted them there. The scene arrangement was not supposed to be noticeable, of course, but such arrangements were considered just as acceptable as painting scenes outdoors. Naturally, a sketch could be made in the woods and finished in oil on canvas back in the studio at home. Nevertheless, “Räfvar” feels especially spontaneous and full of life, and the brush strokes and colours give the sense of having been applied with real branches and leaves. This expression of nature realism also differs significantly from Richard Bergh’s romantic and atmospheric “Nordisk sommarkväll”, as well as from Ernst Josephson’s energetic “Näcken” (Water Sprite).

Bruno Liljefors’ life as a whole offers a number of curiosities. As a young man, he joined a circus, the Brothers Manzondi, along with his brothers. Liljefors certainly saw a similarity between his acrobatic body and the agility and intelligent manoeuvres of foxes. The physicality of acrobatics and interest in the agility and vitality of the human body can be seen represented in Liljefors’ depictions of animal play and movements, flapping and jumping, leaping and creeping. The versatile artist also made use of his circus skills when he climbed trees to draw ospreys!

He felt a great respect for his models: “Nature is hard, ‘cruel’ one might say. The animals no doubt suffer a lot at times,” Liljefors wrote in his book “Det vildas rike” (The Wild Kingdom), where he manifested his passion for Nordic fauna. In the book, Liljefors predicted that the gun of the future would be the camera. But don’t we perceive nature and the animal kingdom as more magical when the brush strokes and colours of the painting reflect the textures, shadows and colour changes in nature? With the help of Bruno Liljefors, elusive nature was tamed for the benefit of city dwellers.

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