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Seeds of Wildlife Art

There are two Swedish painters I particularly admire from the past.... Bruno Liljefors and Anders Zorn, both born in 1860. And, as coincidence would have it, both crossed paths and became friends at the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, Sweden.

Since our April newsletter theme is BIRDS, we'll focus on Bruno Liljefors this month. He is known as one of the pioneers of wildlife art. He took wildlife art out of the ranks of illustration and into fine art.

Hooded Crows by Bruno Liljefors 1881

"Since childhood I have had a strong and unusual affinity for watching wild creatures as they appear in their environment, causing me to spend most of my time rendering them," wrote Liljefors in 1912. "What appeals to me is their expressive form, a picture of balance and perfection, and their organic connection to the surrounding terrain."

Swans by Bruno Liljefors

Bruno Liljefors was born in Sweden on May 14, 1860... almost 158 years ago!... and died in 1939 at the age of 79. He attended the Royal Academy of Art in Stockholm, where he met Anders Zorn. Although Liljefors is best known for his wildlife paintings which was the vast majority of his work, he did paint landscapes and portraits.

Portrait of the Artist's Father by Bruno Liljefors

After leaving the Royal Academy of Art, he traveled to Germany, Italy and Paris, where he was introduced to Impressionism and Japanese prints. You can see that influence in his work. After his year of traveling, he returned to Sweden where he lived the rest of his life.

Although he never visited the US, he first exhibited his work here in 1887. In the United States, critics referred to his work as the "Winslow Homer of Sweden", since they saw a slight similarity in style and outdoor 'sporting art' subjects.

In his wildlife paintings, a recurring theme is the predator-prey relationship. As an avid falconer, he had great respect for the natural order. Many of his paintings depicted pursuit and capture. Common subjects were fox and hare. He was a hunter and outdoorsman, and believed in the need for wildlife conservation.

"Life is imbued with conflict. It is the basis of beauty" Liljefors said.

The animals are placed within the landscape on his canvases in an appealing natural way. Not solely an animal portrait - but integrated into the natural surroundings. Their habitat is evident. Something I often attempt in my own work. So I appreciate studying his compositions, and how he manages to keep the animals set into the scene in a comfortable and pleasing design.

Fun facts about Bruno Liljefors:

- At 27 years old, in 1887 he married Anna Olofsson. The marriage didn't last long and they divorced in the early 1890's. Then, in 1895, he married her younger sister Signe Olofsson.

- One of his paintings in 2004 sold for 4.2 million dollars.

This is a portrait of Bruno Liljefors painted by his Swedish friend Anders Zorn in 1909. Zorn, being one of my all-time favorite artists and a master of greys, may be a blog post for another day...

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