Alice Nordin was the leading female sculptor at the turn of the twentieth century. She was the first woman to hold an exhibition dedicated to sculpture in 1911.
Alice Nordin grew up in a home where drawing was a daily pastime. At age 14 she started at the technical school for female apprentices in Stockholm. From 1890 to 1896 she studied sculpture at Konstakademien (the Royal Academy of Fine Arts) with John Börjeson and Theodor Lundberg. Her work was already noticed while she was a student and she was awarded the ducal medal in 1895 for her sculpture Skymning. That same year she received the royal medal for En Vårdröm. She financed her first stay in Paris by producing copies of the latter. However, in 1899 she returned to Sweden in order to carry out decorative work on Clarence von Rosen’s private palace on Strandvägen in Stockholm. In 1901 she travelled abroad again and she led a nomadic life over the ensuing decades, with periods spent working in Stockholm, Skagen, Paris, Rome and Florence, from whence she sent travelogues to the journal Idun. She wrote ceaselessly: diaries, letters to a wide circle of friends, articles, reviews of exhibitions and presentations of her own works. When the readership of Idun voted for members of a proposed women’s academy she was selected in 1905 for “the place for visual arts” ahead of Jenny Nyström and Anna Boberg.
Alice Nordin’s early sculptures of slender naked beauties in seductive poses was in line with the then dominant French taste in art, as exemplified by Välkommen, 1899, and Hymn till naturen, 1911. The carnal physicality was camouflaged by the use of symbolic names such as Jordens gåva (the earth’s gift), Källsprånget (the source), and Eos. The statue Crokus from 1908 is typical of the floral allegories of the time inspired by Per Hasselberg, and multiple reproductions in terracotta and bronze, as well as two in marble, were produced. The demand for her artwork was considerable. For casting and sales she employed Herman Bergman’s Konstgjuteri from 1906 to 1933, a workshop that had its own exhibition gallery and printed catalogues of products. “Life-sized” marble sculptures were cut in Florence by Luigi Arighetti from 1903 to 1937. She also collaborated with the Böhlmark lamp factory from 1903 to 1916 and designed about a dozen lamps in the Art Nouveau style. The ceiling armatures were embellished with floral patterns while table lamps were held up by intertwined naked human figures, linked with tree stems and crowns. The lamps were given poetic names such as Livets träd (the tree of life) and Natt och Morgon (night and day). In both her plastic and fine art pieces Alice Nordin placed female forms, which were realistically represented, in the most implausible positions.
The 1911 exhibition dedicated to sculpture held at Konstnärshuset was a great success, drawing in 3000 visitors. Alice Nordin displayed about 50 of her pieces. The premises were decorated with flowers, green plants and tapestries from Handarbetets vänner. One participant described how it was “the most tastefully arranged exhibition I ever remember seeing … she arranged the exhibition as a woman. It is hardly likely that anyone else but a woman could conceive of the refinement of placing a statue called Skymning [dusk] … against a tapestry of blues and greens, or to place the fresh and lovely Hymn till Naturen [hymn to nature] against a backdrop of purple silk”. The artist herself was “a complete artwork in blue velvet, which the pink roses on her hat accentuated and made more elegant still”. Alice Nordin was commended on everything that related to the feminine domain – her appearance, her ability to create a beautiful environment and her portrayals of children. Barn som ser efter vildgässen, which came to be her biggest sales success with 50 plaster and 20 bronze copies sold across the globe, was exhibited here for the first time.
Alice Nordin realised that her artwork was accepted when it was created from a feminine perspective. This is particularly evident in the works she created in connection with her love affairs. After meeting Hugo Alfvén in Paris in 1898 she created a devoted listening female bust, which she named Andante Patetico, which was the tempo name for his first violin sonata. By the time she created the bust Tyst (silent), in 1901, which was modelled on Harriet Bosse, the music had been silenced. A few years later, in Italy, she began an open relationship with the Danish author Emil Rasmussen, which ended in disillusionment as portrayed in the bust Déspérée, 1907. In 1917 she thought she was pregnant and persuaded the presumed father (18 years her junior) Andreas Lindblom, a lecturer in art history, to unwillingly marry her. The marriage was dissolved that same year but Lindblom never forgave Alice for “sacrificing” him for her “own comfort’s sake”. In Hera med påfågeln, 1922, he is characterised as a preening bird.
In the mid-1920s Alice Nordin’s work took on a new style. She gave up the light, sentimental, idealistic elements of form and began to adopt a cautiously tightened style in the spirit of modernism. She also took on several official jobs. The monument Ariel (inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest), erected at Hästtorg in Sölvesborg in 1926, depicts a powerful, winged male figure in the process of leaving this world for another existence. The illusion of feather-light airiness in the bronze wings can also be seen in the funerary monument Sorgens genius at Gävle’s old cemetery. Her first significant religious artwork was Ängeln Gabriel, produced in 1925 for Högalid church in Stockholm. Her last was the baptismal font for Sandhamn church in 1942. During the 1930s she made copies of medieval sculptures on Gotland and in 1939 her Herde och hind was erected in St. Olof’s hospital park in Visby through her friend and patron Ellen Roosval von Hallwyl. Out of 15 fountain projects three were realised for private gardens. The well statue, Najad, which led to her being awarded the bronze medal at the Baltic exhibition in Malmö, was never actually executed.
Throughout her productive period she did portraits, almost a third of her entire output comprises portraits of authors (H. Drachmann, E. Rasmussen), composers (H. Alfvén, L. Norman, A. Söderman), priests (M. Björkquist, Y. Brilioth), members of the royalty (Crown Princess Margaret, Gustav V), actors, society ladies, literary characters (Den svarta blomman, inspired by J. Galsworthy), and family members. Her self-penned inventory of artwork comprises more than 250 pieces. She held five dedicated sculpture exhibitions, including one at Norrköping museum in 1919, one at Valand in Gothenburg in 1920 and one in Gävle town hall in 1923. Further to that she displayed in exhibitions held by the association of Swedish female artists until 1938. She was the first female artist to be awarded the royal gold medal Litteris et Artibus in 1925.
Alice Nordin died in Stockholm in 1948 and is buried at the Norra cemetery.
Alice Maria Nordin, https://www.skbl.se/en/article/AliceNordin, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon. Article by Irja Bergström, translated by Alexia Grosjean, retrieved 2021-05-11. Creative Commons – CC BY.
Photo from Nationalmuseum: Tripod with lid. Foto: Cecilia Heisser