Alvar Jansson (1922-1991)

Self portrait - oil painting by Alvar Jansson
Self portrait – oil painting by Alvar Jansson

You can say that the paintings of Alvar Jansson are realistic. It is classical painting inspired and based on ideas by great masters like Tizian, El Greco, Chardin, Goya or Munch, artists who he felt related to, and thus he claimed: “No, I have not discovered something new – but I have discovered something old!

In connection with his first exhibitions in Stockholm in 1955, 1957 and 1960 he was described as a lone wolf of the art, whose work contradicted all the ideas of contemporary art. He made realistic paintings of people, landscapes and still lifes using subdued colours. The subjects he chose then, recurred in his choice of motifs during his whole life. The human body was his most important motif.

The clear, expressive brushwork and the predominant grey scale are characteristic of his style. In environments like public baths and changing rooms his nude studies could get a realistic style, and at the same time the bodies of miners and old people conveyed a deep symbolical and serious message about the dignity of man.

His ability to create images with three dimensional dynamics together with the psychological contents sometimes make you think of Rembrandt and other representatives of the religious painting during the baroque era.

This is what Alvar Jansson wrote about painting:

“Painting has nothing whatsoever with shimmering of colours and brushwork and very little with so called clean relations between colour and form to do, but more with psychological relations, recognition, associations, memories, primary signals and paradoxical contradictions (a form is strengthened either through contrast or similarity. A contrast that is exaggerated neutralizes itself).
Painting has more to do with a kind of mental geometry and mechanics in an intangible room were a turnip is not a round form, not a coloured surface, not even a turnip – but something as strange as a depicted turnip…

I always try to see the complete impression of the motif at once. I act like a child blowing bubbles. At first the bubble is very small, but it already constitutes a sphere. The child blows very carefully until the bubble is ready to burst. In the same way I work with all the different parts of my painting at the same time and complete it slowly until I reach the overall impression.”

Alvar Jansson


1922 Born in Kiruna, Sweden
1947-1952 Studied at The Royal University College of Fine Arts, Stockholm, Sweden
1974-1976 The head of Valand´s Art School.
1978-1984 Professor of painting at The Royal University College of Fine Arts, Stockholm

Selected Public Collections

Moderna Museet – Stockholm Museum of Modern Art, Sweden
Gothenburg Museum of Art, Sweden
Borås Konstmuseum
Norrköping´s Museum of Art
Skövde Museum of Art
Sundsvall´s museum
Sweden´s portrait collection
Bonnier´s portrait collection

Documenterade exhibitions