Saturday, November 8, 2008

The tragic story of John Bauer

When I was living in Sweden back in the early 1990s, I noticed a commemorative stamp series honoring the Swedish artist John Bauer. I had never heard of him before, but I was intrigued by his drawings of trolls, forests, maidens, and of course, moose. John Bauer is best known as the illustrator of "Bland Tomtar och Troll" (Among Elves and Trolls), a yearly Christmas fairytale book. On my last visit to Sweden, I made a pilgrimage to the wonderful John Bauer Museum in Jönköping. When I got there, I discovered that the bulk of Bauer's work had been loaned out (naturally) for an exhibition in Germany. Still, there was a great deal of biographical information and sketches that helped to paint a portrait of the man whose tragic story touched my heart.

John Bauer was born in the Swedish city of Jönköping in 1882. He studied art at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, and met his wife, Ester, there. The young couple quickly discovered that they had differing interests. John wanted to be out in the forest, to gain inspiration for his fairytale illustrations. Ester wanted to live in the city and attend parties and social events. Eventually, the couple split up. After a while, however, they decided to give their marriage another go. In 1918, they boarded the ship the Per Brahe with all of their belongings to make a new life in Stockholm. During the voyage, there was a storm and John, his wife Ester, their two year old son Bengt ("Putte") and 21 others drowned when the ship sank. Ironically, there had recently been a highly publicized and deadly train wreck, which is why the Bauer family decided to travel by ship. There is also a persistent belief that the trolls and fairies who were John Bauer's inspiration did not want him to leave the Småland forests, and therefore caused the storm which kept him forever there with them. November 20 will mark the 90th anniversary of Bauer's death.

John Bauer's trolls are not scary, menacing types but rather curious and sometimes endearing forest dwellers. The baby troll, "Humpe", figures in some of Bauer's most famous works. His illustrations have influenced generations of artists and helped to shape the impression of the fairytale forest that we all carry with us.

While I'm on the subject of interesting museums in Småland, I want to also mention the fascinating Grenna Museum, which houses the Andrée Polar exhibit. In 1897, S.A. Andrée and two other explorers set out for the North Pole in a balloon (as you do). After only two days, they crashed on a remote ice floe. Unable to make it to safety, they survived for three months but eventually perished. Their remains were not found until 1930. Found with them were photographs, diaries and equipment which create a very moving and fascinating account of their doomed journey. Highly recommended!

2 comments:

Chris Rae said...

Interesting stuff - although it has caused me to spend too much of my afternoon reading the great Wikipedia entry about S. A. Andrée's failed Arctic balloon expedition. The perils of procrastination (by me, not by S. A. Andrée)...

Lisanne624 said...

Glad you enjoyed the Wikipedia info about Andrée. It really is a fascinating story -- sort of like Gilligan's Island, except cold and without the Professor!

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