22 November 2010

B.J.O. Nordfeldt: 1906

"Stories may be told much better with words. Pictures are for beauty; the feeling that they impart, not the story they tell. Pictures are like poems. A good poem doesn't tell a story; it contains beauty of rhythm." - Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt (1878-1955)




















The subtle suggestiveness  of Nordfeldt's work from the year 1906 whispers the name J.A.M. Whistler.  Of course, both artists had been imprinted by their encounters with ukiyo-e prints.  Nordfeldt's family emigrated to Chicago from Tulstorg, Sweden in 1891, when Bror was thirteen and, after a stop at the Art Institute School ther from 1898 to 1900, and another one at the Académie Julian in Paris, Nordfeldt studied Japanese printing techniques with Frank Morley Fletcher in England, where he also ecnountered Whistler's prints.  Before returning to the United States, where he would lead a peripatetic life, Nordfeldt visited his grandmother in Jonstorp, Sweden, refining his woodblock working methods. 

















 Nothing the artist ever did, not even his experiments with the bold white line technique he crafted with the Provincetown Printers on Cape Cod  equaled the prints he made in one charmed year.  To my eyes, the subject matter that Nordfeldt instructs us to ignore looks quite like his native Sweden, filtered sometimes through the japoniste style he saw in Parisian galleries.  The waves and the drooping tree branches are fairly obvious homages, but the atmospherics Nordfeldt created with his hard-to-define hues are memorable.  It is not unusual for an artist to try one thing, and then another.  What makes Nordfelt a curious case is that neither a bolder use of color nor a turn to painting seems to have suited his talents so well.  Did he see his work as we see it?

Images:  Untitled, Figures Among the Trees, Anglers.The Mist,  and Moonrise are woodblock prints by B.J. O. Nordfeldt are from the collection of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.

12 comments:

Neil said...

Sometimes the light shines on an artist for just a short time - in England the classic example is Samuel Palmer - and that's that.

Rouchswalwe said...

These are wonderfully muted and subtle, yet there is one thing that strikes the eye in each one. Wonderful!

Jane said...

Neil, the received wisdom used to be that Nordfeldt - being a man - was responsible for the innovations of the Provincetown Printers, c.1915-1920. Now we know the cast of characters was much bigger. (For instance, see Adele Heller's "1915: The Cultural Moment"). I also like these earlier works better.

Jane said...

Rouchswalwe,the shadings are lovely, almost beyond words. Nordfeldt used so many permutations of gray, which sounds boring but isn't.

Gerrie said...

Jane I have seen and colleted several (a dozen or so) pictures of prints by this wonderful artist but these are all new to me.
Great ! Thanks
Gerrie

Jane said...

Gerrie, if you go to the Smithsonian Museum website www.americanart.si edu, there are several more woodcuts and etchings by Nordfeldt. There is a lovely one of a woman standing by a piano that I guess might be Nordfeldt's grandmother.

Gerrie said...

I found them, his New York etchings are great and majestic too. Thank you Jane,
Gerrie

Jane said...

The Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian is rich in graphic arts of all sorts. And browsing online you see things not on display.

k.r.h.voigt said...

"Moonrise" in its simplicity is a wonderful print! It truely "contains beauty of rhythm". What a pity that it is unaffordable for people like me...

jane said...

I share the feeling, although my guess is that Nordfeldt's prints aren't so expensive as you might think. I saw a framed print by Jane Berry Judson for $800. Now you've made me curious to research this.

Kate said...

I just found this post while looking for something else entirely... had never heard of Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt before and am so pleased and thrilled to discover his work. Thanks somuch.

Jane said...

Kate, welcome. Glad you too like Nordfeldt's prints. He was one of the first to use the white line printing technique at Provincetown. There is more of and about Nordfeldt at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art at www.americanart.si.edu