Ester Dorothea Almqvist (3 November 1869 – 11 June 1934) was a Swedish artist who was a pioneer of Expressionist painting in Sweden. She was active in Skåne and got her breakthrough in the national romantic tradition, but later paved the way for modernism’s breakthrough in Sweden with an innovative neoimpressionist and expressionist oeuvre.
Esters Almqvist’s family was from Småland, but she spent her first years in the Stockholm area during a time when her parents taught a missionary school run by the Evangelical Fosterland Foundation. Her father came from a Småland priesthood and was, like his sister-in-law Lina Sandell, deeply engaged in ETUC, mainly in missionary activities and in the sobriety movement. He died when Ester Almqvist was 9 years old and his mother, Augusta, then supported the family as a private teacher and as a religious bookstore. Ester Almqvist’s mobility was since birth restricted due to a deformed back. A Småland priestess and her two daughters, one of whom is humpy, are described in the poet Bo Bergman’s posthumously published, autobiographical essay collection Noah’s Ark. Esther’s sister Maria was the poet’s inspiration in the love poems “Star Eye” and “Over Time and Space”.
After her mother’s death, Ester Almqvist broke with his old life, and also with the ideal of national romanticism, and moved to Skåne where she established her artistic activity and fetched many of her most famous motifs.
Esters Almqvist trained at the Technical School in Stockholm 1888-1891 and on private lessons for Gustaf Cederström. She chose not to apply to the Academy of Fine Arts, but continued her art studies at the Valand Art Academy in Gothenburg, where art education was led by Carl Larsson and Richard Berg. She was also a student at the Swedish Association of Artists’ Association with Per Hasselberg and Bruno Liljefors as supervisor. She supported herself during her education by illustrating biblical proverbs published by EFS, illustrations that were conveyed by the mother. She also wrote and illustrated children’s books. As a member of the Confederation of Artists in 1897-1900, she was represented early in her career in Swedish and international exhibitions. She participated, among other things, in the World Exposition in Saint Louis 1904.
When Ester Almqvist broke through, she was one of the twilight writers and produced art with deep shadows and sad mood. With ideas cast in the national romantic spirit of the time, she considered that the roots of artists in the Swedish landscape governed their creative process and the proximity to the roots determined the authenticity of art. She expressed this in a letter to a friend in 1896 where she described herself as being forced to live in “two worlds” – the one she liked the least in where she felt she had to link to in her art to be “genuine”. The first world was life-affirming and bohemian, populated by “solar people” (whom she called her artist friends), while the second existence according to her was “heavy and prehistoric”, “Swedish and peasant”. She continues: “It is my old life as a Småland priesthood, which can never be wiped out. It is not calm and uplifting, but still oddly enough, it is only in that environment and in the air, so to speak, that I can paint so that it isI and not its or its followers who have done it, there are always sad things, but at least the only genuine thing I can accomplish. ”
Almqvist spent most of her working life in Lund, and some of her best-known paintings are of the surrounding areas of Skåne province. She began exhibiting in the late 1890s and participated in the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.
Almqvist’s early work is Impressionist in style and conforms to what was then the prevailing mood of gentle melancholy in Swedish painting. After her mother’s death she turned to Expressionism, and her mature paintings from about 1913 onward share a strong kinship with the work of Vincent van Gogh, featuring vigorous brushwork, strong colors, and heavy lines.
Almqvist belonged to a group of Swedish women artists who traveled, worked, exhibited, and sometimes lived together, including Tora Vega Holmström, Agnes Wieslander, and Maja Fjæstad. In her last year of life, when back pain made it impossible to work, a younger generation of women artists, such as Vera Nilsson, Mollie Faustman, and Siri Derket mounted an exhibition of her work in Stockholm honoring her as an early Swedish modernist. Broader recognition came only after her death in 1934, however. Another exhibit was organized in Lund at the Skånska Konstmuseum a year after she died by a friend Nils Gösta Sandblad. Four years after she died, a retrospective was held at the Galerie Moderne in Brussels. In Almqvist’s will she insisted her artwork would be donated to the Malmö Art Museum. Her work is now in the collection of the Swedish National Museum, the Gothenburg Art Museum, the Malmö Art Museum, and other institutions, and she is widely recognized as a pioneer of Expressionism in Sweden.
In 1992, her painting entitled The Meeting (Swedish: Sammankomsten, 1929) was chosen for a Swedish postage stamp honoring Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which protects freedom of association.
Her papers are held by Lund University.
Ester Almqvist spent most of his active professional life in Lund and eventually embraced expressionist influences from the continent. Her sister Maria also moved to Lund and with her income as director of a nursing home in the city, she could assist with financial support for Esther’s rent when the income from art was not enough.
She was part of a group of female Swedish artists who traveled, worked, exhibited and occasionally lived together, consisting of among others Tora Vega Holmström, Agnes Wieslander and Maja Fjæstad. She was dependent on her colleagues to be able to conduct study trips abroad because of her disability, as described by Maj Bring who took her to Paris. In the last few years before Ester Almqvist’s death worsened her pain and in 1934, when she could no longer walk, a younger generation gathered female artists, including Mollie Faustman, Vera Nilsson and Siri Derkert, compiled her art and exhibited it in Stockholm as a tribute and recognition of her importance as a female pioneer in Swedish modernism. With this last exhibition at the end of her life, her artistry was once again highlighted in the National Press and in 1938, four years after her death, international recognition came, with a memorial exhibition at Galerie Moderne in Brussels.
One of Ester Almqvist’s works, the oil painting “The Gathering” from 1929 (owned by Nationalmuseum ), has also made her internationally known. The painting was chosen in 1992 by the United Nations Postal Administration as the motive for a postage stamp illustrating the twentieth article of the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the article dealing with the Free Court. The other articles are represented by works by Johannes Vermeer, Jacques Louis David, Henry Moore, Fernand Léger and Georges Seurat. She is also represented at, among others, the Gothenburg Art Museum in Gothenburg and the Modern Museum.
Source from Wikipedia