The Graveyard in the Mountains

The Graveyard in the Mountains
The Graveyard in the Mountains

Anna Boberg was a painter and a versatile artist who also created ceramic-, glass- and textile-art. A defining moment in her life was coming face to face with the arctic landscape of Lofoten when she was in her 30s.

Anna Boberg was brought up in Stockholm in an upper middle-class family. Her father, architect and professor at the Academy of Art Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander, was a dominant character. In contrast to her brothers, she and her sisters received no formal education and Anna Boberg was forbidden from training to become an artist. Her father’s opinion of the female students at the Academy of Art – which had included a women’s section since 1864 – was this: “Why should they give up their ‘useful pastimes’ just to sample ‘the sweet starvation of the easel’? Devil take those who have such stupid ideas“.

A few weeks’ studying at the Académie Julian in Paris notwithstanding, Anna Boberg was basically self-taught when she was struck by the sublime nature of Lofoten – the land of mountains, the midnight sun of summer and the northern lights of winter and the sea, all as magnificently unforgiving as beautiful. In her autobiography Envar sitt ödes lekboll, from 1934, she writes: “After a week in nature based at the fishing village of Svolvær, I was so taken by the mountains of Lofoten that I just plain refused to go home. I wanted to stay and paint, paint, paint. My husband went home via Trondheim and from there he sent me all the items I required for painting”.

Her husband, architect Ferdinand Boberg, supported her and had a hut built for her. From 1901 she returned to Lofoten and Nordland as often as possible, usually on her own and preferably in wintertime. Anna Boberg was very productive there and nearly 200 of her landscapes from the area are housed in the National museum collections alone. These studies and watercolours and oil paintings depict the wilderness of the mountains and their fishing villages or the sizable fishing fleets which operated around the clock throughout the year.

The collaboration between Anna Boberg and her husband was important to both of them. Ferdinand Boberg’s many commissions to design formal representational buildings – such as the LO building in 1899, Rosenbad in 1903, Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde in 1904, the Thiel gallery in 1905 and Nordiska Kompaniet in 1915 – and furthermore be responsible for a range of industrial art exhibitions, led to orders which could include entire interiors with furniture and artwork. Naturally, Anna Boberg became involved given her talent as a designer. For the Art- and Industry-exhibition in Stockholm in 1897 she designed the magnificent Peacock Vase for Rörstrand, which was 180 cm tall and made of flintware in typical Jugend-style which was just becoming known in Sweden at the time. The Jugend-style also characterised Anna Boberg’s early commissions as a designer for Handarbetets Vänner (Friends of Handicrafts) in Stockholm and for Nordiska Kompaniet’s textile section. These depicted animal- and plant-themed designs inspired by the British Arts- and Crafts-movement for weavings and embroideries. Her tapestry entitled Fox and duck which had been commissioned by Handarbetets Vänner for the same exhibition was executed in bright colours against a dark background and a stylized border of flowers, considered very modern at the time. She was an experimental and original designer of glass artwork. When she was engaged to work for the Reijmyre glass factory she used bubbles as decoration, predating later developments in the 1930s. Her familiarity with stylistic developments on the Continent is revealed in her method of signing her glassware with her full name in gold, inspired by Emile Gallé in Nancy.

Little has been written about Anna Boberg’s paintings from Lofoten. Her autobiography offers little information on her contribution to the Swedish art world as it reveals nothing of her relationship with her contemporary colleagues. It appears that she was part of the same national romantic movement which portrayed regional environments, as several of the members of Konstnärsförbundet (the Swedish Artists’ Federation) did. At best she received mixed reviews, and sometimes negative reviews when she exhibited in Stockholm, while she got positive reviews in Paris, Venice, Rome and other cities. In addition to those works held in the collection at Stockholm’s National museum other examples of her work can be found in several Swedish museum collections and also abroad.

With the outbreak of the First World War Ferdinand Boberg’s official commissions dried up. He instead organized a massive cultural heritage project which came to last ten years, called “Svenska bilder”. The Boberg couple undertook car journeys throughout Sweden in order to document the country’s buildings and items worth preserving. He would create drafts while she would write detailed descriptions. Anna Boberg also made an important cultural-historic contribution to the neglected list of items in the country’s churches by undertaking a national inventory during the period of 1918–1932.

Anna Boberg published her autobiography at the end of her life and appended a travelogue from India. She also wrote a libretto for an opera.

Anna Boberg died in 1935.

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Anna Katarina Boberg, www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/AnnaBoberg, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon. Article by Anna Lena Lindberg. Translated by Alexia Grosjean retrieved 2021-05-10. Creative Commons – CC BY.

Painting from Nationalmuseum. Public Domain. Photo: Erik Cornelius