Swedish painters

Ivar Arosenius (1878-1908)

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Sweden's other great fairytale illustrator from the early part of the 20th century, more political and burlesque than John Bauer and just as poetical, lyrical, his images being full of fantasy and melancholy. Arosenius died only 30 years old shortly after his breakthrough as an artist.

2010 saw a major exhibition of Arosenius' work in Stockholm and Goethenburg.

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Here is a beautiful abducted princess,
painted in 1904, maybe considering
And here are some more of his hilarious trolls:
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Axel Törneman (1880-1925)

Modernist Swedish painter. Not a real troll painter but qualifies to this gallery with his wonderful painting "The Troll King and the Princess" from 1905, painted in his typical, very dramatic and dynamic style, more influenced by German fairytale illustration than Bauer's soft organic trolls. In a letter to his parents Törneman explained that the troll represented the dark forces in the human while the princess represented the good. Looking at the picture today one does notice that the princess voluntarily follows the troll king who gently leads her into his realm, she does not seem either forced or drugged, but rather as someone accepting her fate/capture. But can one really trust what a young male artist says to his parents?

Troll King and Princess

John Bauer (1882-1918)

Bauer selfportrait 1908

John Bauer is without any doubt the Scandinavian artist who defined the modern fairytale troll that separates us from the trolls of rural superstition or folklore. Through his delicate eyes and gentle brush stroke the troll became a sympathetic and often misunderstood creature, uncivilised in an innocent way and thus a perfect companion for the modern child in the town or city who would rarely have the chance to get lost in a real forest and therefore sees it as an idyllic stage of rural fantasy unlike the modern urban landscape of factories and apartments that was just emerging at the time of Bauer with the great immigration of farm labour to the cities. The Bauer troll lives in a distinct world that is consistent from picture to picture, from fairytale to fairytale and is often telling a much more interesting story that the actual stories Bauer was commissioned to illustrate. The picture below called "Root Trolls" is a good example of Bauer's sympathy with both the child and the troll. It could have been a scene of horrible abduction by ugly ogres, but rather evokes safety and friendship. These trolls are curious about the human child, maybe even admiring its beauty, but they pose no threat. Bauer, like Tove Jansson many years later, thus invites the child to explore the world, to seek the unknown, to challenge its own fear.

Bauer Root Trolls

Bauer's world is always set up as at stage with a clearly separated foreground and background and often framed by trees. His style is very decorative as seen above. Below is a typical example with the motif of a beautiful human being led into the troll's world. In Bauer's work it is always the humans who enter the troll's domain, never the opposite, seeking or being forced to encounter some mind- or life-changing experience.

Here is an old troll woman with hairy arms welcoming you inside her cave. Notice Bauer's custom palette of greyish earth colours reminding us that we are now entering the world of the subterraneans, far from our enlightened daylight world. Unlike the witches of the Grimm Brothers this troll woman does not seem to pose any threat. It is more likely that she will invite you in for a cup of root tea and some freshly baked bark bread.

The following two sketches give a good idea about how he developed his troll characters. Notice how soft and organic his line is.

And finally a drawing of a Saami boy, indicating Bauer's interest for more 'natural' peoples which is also reflected in the Trolls' clothes and other artifacts like hand-carved knives. Often neighbouring peoples, eg. Saami, Finns, Gypsies or even the Scanians in Skåne, have been attributed with certain magical powers:

Bauer lived and worked during the age that has later been called the age of National Romanticism, a period until the beginning of World War I when some Scandinavian artists, inspired by the movement of Symbolism, sought the soul of the Nation in the people's own voices, eg. old fairy tales or epic poems as the Finnish Kalevala. In Bauer's case the trolls represented what modern man had lost, an originality and naturalness that was magic. Obviously World War I killed any belief in this project.

Bauer also did a few sculptures, like the following of a trollboy that appears in many of his paintings and may be some alterego:

Let's also meet Bauer's favourite troll Vill - Vallareman who "was a small troll with human features. He was a fine musician and good at playing the bark horn. It could be heard all over the forest when he played. The big trolls were fighting about who should become the next king. But in the end it was Will with his mediating personality who became king. You don't have to be physically big and strong to get far. Even someone small can become king. Vill-Vallareman was "big" inside."
(From H. Schiller, John Bauer Sagotecknaren, Stockholm 1935).

In 1982 Bauer's fairy tale world was celebrated with a series of four stamps:

Finally the classic myth that some Scandinavians still are tempted to believe: John Bauer, tired of painting trolls and eager to develop his art, decided in 1918 to return to Stockholm with his family from their house Björkudden in Småland where he had lived and worked for years, but according to legend the trolls did not want him to leave and therefore created an autumn storm on the generally very peaceful lake Vättern causing the steam ship Per Brahe to sink with all its crew and passengers, including John Bauer, his wife Ester and their son Putte.

It has been discussed whether John and Ester were falling out of love with each other at the time of their untimely and tragic death. Ester felt alone while he was busy pursuing his career as an artist slowly building an international reputation. Whatever the truth was, Bauer's paintings are characterised by a very ephemeral, platonic love between princesses and knights. Women are decorative beauties in his fairytale world whose only role is to be abducted by trolls and saved by knights. In fact, Bauer's trolls are his most human characters - shy, curious, helpful, different, awkward (and as big-nosed as Bauer himself - maybe another reason for his attraction?).


Svenolov Ehrén (1927-2004)

Graphic artist, illustrator of a lovely book from 1961 by Ann-Sofi and Christer Topelius, retelling old fairytales about various supernatural creatures, incl. the devil himself. The book is called Jättar och Troll i Sverige ("Giants and Trolls in Sweden") and is now very rare. I will exhibit other illustrations by Ehrén elsewhere on

Here is Ehrén's graphic interpretation of a folktale from 1490 where trolls offer a young knave a goblet with poisonous wine, hoping to capture him that way (this is a well-known story in many parts of Scandinavia). You can read it here.

And here is his version of the story of the giant Finn who helped build Lund Cathedral, a story also mentioned here.

Einar Norelius (1900-1985)

Tree Troll

Swedish artist of classic Swedish comics series, such as 'Pelle Svanslös' (about a tail-less cat's adventures in Uppsala).
Also illustrator of many stories in the Swedish Bland Tomter och Troll-story magazines where he worked for almost half a century. So far only one book has been written about him, but it is difficult to get hold of.

And finally a good drawing of a troll/giant:

Let's finish with this great painting of a rather confused looking troll king being advised something by another, maybe cunning troll. In this painting Norelius has definitely developed his own style though it is clear he is influenced by contemporary advertisement illustration, eg. American Norman Rockwell:

Robert Högfeldt (1894-1986)

Swedish illustrator with quite a Disneyesque style who created a troll world fit for children's books and postcards but quite detached from the trolls of rural folklore. "Urban trolls" one might call them - cute and posing no risk to anybody. He may be said to be the best of the Scandinavian troll postcard artists.

First a bathing male troll with very long beard and hair and quite a stupid look:

Then some trolls teasing an angel (Högfeldt loved playing with the subject - beauty vs. beast - in many versions)

Trolls Teasing an Angel

Followed by some more rough looking trolls discovering a hot bowl of porridge:

Trolls and Hot Porridge

A small troll with two birds:

And finally a detail from a troll painting called "Jealousy" with two male trolls fighting over a troll girl:

Gustaf Adolf Tenggren (1896-1970)

Swedish illustrator, replaced John Bauer as the illustrator of Bland Tomtar och Troll (Among Pixies and Trolls), moved to America in 1920 where he later found work as illustrator at Disney and worked on several movies incl. Snow White. You can read more about him here.
Here are three troll illustrations by him:

Trolls descending a hill (1915), watercolour and gouache

"She combed their hair" (Bathing in a lily pond), tempera

Troll being chased out of the village

Finally a beautiful watercolour from 1917 called "The Fairytale Forest" with trolls lurking behind every stone and tree - painted during the horrors of World War I:

Jan Lööf (born 1940)

From the pixi book The Mountain Trolls' New Home (1976)

The famous Swedish comic book artist and illustrator of childrens' books, Jan Lööf, has also captured the spirit of the peaceful Scandinavian troll in his own very characteristic style. On this Swedish site you can see his story of the mountain trolls who decide to leave their cold caves and move down to the forest, something the forest trolls are not particularly happy about though, but with the help of a witch and the Nixie they build a house in the middle of the lake. Also notice Lööf's friendly but slightly rebellious reference to John Bauer in this frame where this witch chops down the trees in a classic Bauer painting to build the troll's new home:

John Bauer Tuvstarr 1913
Jan LööfJohn Bauer

Maj Fagerberg

Wonderful Swedish illustrator of children's literature, esp. fairytales, who has her own homepage here, but here is a troll mother with her 11 children all tied safely together:

Bo Beskow (1906-1989)

The son of Elsa Beskow, esp. famous for his more experimental art which you can see a few of here, but he was also occupied with trolls in his youth, as in this cover for a collection of troll stories written and illustrated by himself. Note the striking contrast between the soft troll and the sharp geometrical shapes of the townscape and policeman.

Tord Nygren (born 1936)

Very productive Swedish illustrator, recently (2004) of Asbjørnsen and Moe's tales. Especially known for his great watercolour techniques as in the two troll pictures below:

This kind looking troll is from the book Trollringen from 2002:

Inger Edelfeldt (born 1956)

Swedish illustrator and writer of children books, adult books and comic books plus more. Also known for her illustrations of Tolkien's universe. Very intelligent writer and very talented artist. Here are two drawings of her funny trolls, the pink being a "no troll" and the yellow a "yes troll" (both from 2002):

Åke Holm (1900-1980)

Swedish cheramist and graphic artist, lived and worked in Höganäs all his life, developed the so-called Kullatroll in the 1940's, now a popular collector's item. Here are a few examples of his trolls:

Inga Borg (born 1925)

Swedish writer and illustrator, creator of this lovely little troll like creature called Plupp who lives in the far north of Sweden among reindeer and mountains.

Plupp has his own club here (but only in Swedish)

Here is a beautiful ink drawing of the Frost Giant in her beloved Northern Swedish environment:

Hugo Hamilton (1849-1928)

A Swedish poet of nonsense poetry who also drew troll pictures to illustrate some of his funny poems (not translated), found in the book För barn och barnbarn (1925). Here is one example of both his drawing and writing skills (in Swedish):

"Tumpar du i kallimallivandra?"
sa det fõrsta trollet till det andra.
"Nej, men linkelunk har buritörsta",
sa det andra trollet till det första.
Det var inte underligt minsann,
att de inte alls förstod varann!

(In the poem one troll asks a nonsensical question to another troll who then gives an equally nonsensical answer and the poet states he is not surprised at all that the two trolls don't understand each other).

Elsa Beskow (1874-1953)

Swedish children book writer and illustrator. I only know of one troll drawing from her, from one of her books about a tiny family living in the forest, the Tomteborna. Here the children run away after encountering a mountain troll:

Read more about her here.

Rolf Lidberg (1925?-2005)

The last great Scandinavian troll painter Rolf Lidberg died Februari 2005, 74 years old. He was an expert of Swedish orchids and guided many botanical walks in Sweden and also produced watercolour illustrations of Swedish flora, but is probably most well-known for his funny trolls that did more or less the same as people in those parts of the world, they just lived longer (say 500 years), in complete harmony with nature and had tails and longer ears and bigger noses. His paintings were lighter than John Bauer's, both in technique and subject-matter, but the influence is obvious. The photo of Lidberg painting flowers is copyright Hjördis Lundmark.

Two alterego trolls:

A skiing troll:

And finally a cover from his story Trollromans about two trolls getting married and having a little troll baby:
Lidberg Trollromans book cover

Elizabeth Nyman

(from "Troll" by Ebbe Schön, 1997)

Contemporary Swedish illustrator

As the pictures above show, Nyman has succeeded in freeing herself of Bauer's overshadowing influence by making trolls more animal-like but thereby also less analogous to humans.

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