Beautiful and Dangerous
Nature as seen by Liljefors
29 September 2023 – 14 January 2024
Autumn at the Nivaagaard Collection will feature wild nature paintings by Swedish painter Bruno Liljefors (1860–1939) – one of Scandinavia’s most important wildlife painters.
Liljefors is especially well known for his dramatic animal motifs. His vital and powerful paintings often depict the battle for survival, but sometimes they show still, watchful creatures observed from near or from afar in their natural surroundings. Liljefors was also a hunter and a photographer, and it is with both sentimental detachment and anatomical accuracy that he depicts Sweden’s wildlife in meadows and forests, or its birds of prey swooping over roaring seas and tranquil lakes.
The painting of wild animals and hunting scenes has historically been linked with the practice of hunting itself. This is also the case for Liljefors, who was a keen hunter. Hunting pervaded both his art and his life.
He would often set out with his bow, arrows and his rifle, and later with a camera lens. All tools that open the senses and require you to try and become one with nature in order to catch your prey or a moment in time. He held wild animals in captivity to study them – not just birds of prey, but also bears, foxes, wildcats and martens were all kept in his private menagerie. It was the fox that most captivated his attention, and this animal occupies a special place in his oeuvre. Countless times he painted this mythical creature, which he kept in a cage to study and to tame.
For Liljefors, nature can be dangerous. Beautiful, but unpredictable. Some images show landscapes, sunsets and birds taking flight, while others are replete with struggle and death. Drama pervades many of his paintings – just as in nature. He depicts a world of hunting and alertness on one side, vigilance and flight on the other. A world in which one eats the other.
Bruno Liljefors is born in 1860 in Uppsala. He is the son of a gunpowder merchant and spends much of his childhood outdoors. He is by no means a sturdy boy – at least not yet. Later, he will go on to cultivate his body and its muscles as an elite gymnast and even a circus artist together with his younger siblings, who perform as the Manzondi Brothers. But as a young boy, he is plagued by asthma and frailty.
From a young age, Liljefors discovers how nature is a place where he can quite literally breathe free. Wandering alone in the forest with his bow and arrow, he communes with the landscape and its wildlife, quickly developing into a skilled huntsman. These experiences inform his painting and a lifetime spent creating a type of imagery that requires specialised knowledge and deep familiarity with nature and its seasons, the behaviour and habitats of animals, their fur, plumage, diet and more.
His paintings become hugely popular in Sweden and in Europe, and this exhibition is comprised of loans from museums in Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
It is an opportunity to experience nature both inside and outside the museum.
The exhibition is supported by ‘Aage og Johanne Louis-Hansens Fond’, ‘Knud Højgaards Fond’ and ‘Furi Appel og Gunnar Niskers Fond til Almennyttige Formål’.