Anna Petrus-Lyttkens was a sculptor, a graphic artist, a dancer, and an craftsman.
Anna Petrus-Lyttkens was born in Uppsala in 1886. She grew up in that university town. Her parents were Oskar Viktor Petersson, a professor of paediatrics, and Countess Maria Stackelberg. Anna Petrus-Lyttkens was financially independent due to her inheritance, enabling her to become an artist. At an early stage in her life she travelled to London in order to study sculpting. There she came into contact with suffragettes and became a supporter of that movement. Once back in Stockholm Anna Petrus-Lyttkens studied at the Althin school of painting and then was accepted into Kungliga konsthögskolan (the royal college of art) in the sculpture department. Her closest friend at the school was Siri Derkert.
She held her first exhibition in 1916 under the auspices of Konstföreningen (the art society) in Stockholm, along with Greta Ruuth. Through her graphic art and sculptural work Anna Petrus-Lyttkens gained the attention of the likes of Gregor Paulson and Johnny Roosval, professor of art, who acquired her sculpture called Längtan for his Villa Muramaris on Gottland. Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ close friendships with Otte Sköld and Gösta Nyström are also worthy of note and they sometimes served as her life models. Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ son Ejnar was born in 1916 and the following year she married her child’s father, doctor Harald Lyttkens.
The avant-garde culture of the day embraced the concept of ‘Gesamtkunstverk’ (a kind of universal art). With this in mind Anna Petrus-Lyttkens, Siri Derkert, and Märta Kuylenstierna put on a dance performance in 1917 at the Intima theatre in Stockholm inspired by Isadora Duncan. The three women were responsible for the direction, choice of music, staging, costumes, and choreography. In 1919 Anna Petrus-Lyttkens and Siri Derkert exhibited their work at Den Frie in Copenhagen and at Lund university art museum. That same year Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ daughter Sonja Lyttkens was born, who would later become a docent in mathematics at Uppsala university and be active in the debates surrounding the women’s movement, particularly with regard to the issue of joint taxation and its removal.
In 1920 Anna Petrus-Lyttkens was going to hold a major solo exhibition at the Swedish-French art gallery in Stockholm. However, shortly before the opening a major fire broke out in her studio, causing the loss of more than 100 pieces of her work. The exhibition still went ahead although it was much reduced in scope. She then headed off on an extended trip to Italy, Northern Africa and Paris, from which she gained the energy and inspiration to embark on an entirely new direction of work: applied arts. Anna Petrus-Lyttkens began to produce unique items in the shape of candlesticks, inkwells, trays, and tray tables at her own studio and at Herman Bergman’s foundry. Some of the tables resulted from collaborative work with the architect Uno Åhrén, whilst other individual pieces had been created in conjunction with Karl Wojtech, a silversmith. Anna Petrus-Lyttkens had probably met both these fellow artists through her friend Wolter Gahn. Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ designs came to comprise new techniques and new metals – including copper and bronze, but mainly tin.
During the mid-1920s Anna Petrus-Lyttkens met Estrid Ericson, the founder of the newly-established enterprise called Svenskt Tenn AB. The results of their collaborations are still being produced today, namely products such as Janusansiktet, Profilvasen, and Lejonet. The lion, a motif which had already featured as part of Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ corpus of motifs, was reproduced in a variety of different versions and eventually became a trademark of her powerful style.
The female industrial artists of the era tended to work in textiles and ceramics. Whilst continuing her work in tin Anna Petrus-Lyttkens tested a material which was considered even more masculine, namely cast iron. The traditional Näfveqvarn works had attracted many artists, sculptors, and architects given their focus on artistic cast iron goods. All of the aforementioned individuals had been men, apart from Anna Petrus-Lyttkens. The Näfveqvarn works made its international debut at the Paris World’s Fair in 1925, for which Carl Bergsten served as head architect of the Swedish entry. Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ submission consisted of columns and lintels for the doors to the Swedish pavillion’s main hallway. Future works with Näfveqvarn and Bergsten include the Villa Hertha in Kalmar and the M/S Kungsholmen.
Anna Petrus-Lyttkens was a sculptor who dared to undertake large-scale commissions. In 1928 she and Uno Åhrén presented a proposal to restructure a park in Karlskrona, based around a water feature, Vindarnas Brunn. Despite major efforts their proposal was never realised. This would be the last project of Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ very brief and intensive artistry.
Anna Petrus-Lyttkens died in 1949. The Anna Petrus-Lyttkens park in Uppsala was completed in 2014. That same year Anna Petrus-Lyttkens’ sculpture Mor och barn was completed according to a model which had been destroyed in her studio fire in 1920.
Anna Petrus-Lyttkens is buried at Snöstorp cemetery in Kalmar.
Julia Augusta Lovisa Beck, https://www.skbl.se/en/article/AnnaPetrusLyttkens, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon. Article by Marie Rehnberg, translated by Alexia Grosjean, retrieved 2021-05-09. Creative Commons – CC BY.
Relief from Nationalmuseum: The Earth. Foto: Linn Ahlgren