Carolina Benedicks-Bruce was one of our earliest female sculptors.
Carolina Benedicks-Bruce was born into a wealthy Jewish foundry-owning family. Her paternal grandfather Edvard Otto Benedicks, who had emigrated from Saxony, ran Gysinge works in the 1820s and subsequently became one of the wealthiest men in Sweden and enjoyed royal favour. He helped to establish the Jewish congregation in Stockholm. Similarly, her maternal side of the family, including the wholesale merchant Cantzler at its head, had also emigrated from Germany towards the end of the 1700s. It was from that side of the family that Carolina Benedicks-Bruce inherited her artistic traits: both her maternal grandmother Sofia Magdalena and her four maternal uncles were artistically active. She probably received her earliest artistic training from them.
In 1881, when Caroline Benedicks-Bruce was 25 years old, she began to attend basic sculpting class at the Konstakademi (academy of art). She was the sole female student that year. Prior to that she had visited August Malmström’s painting school for women, had attended a sewing school and had danced at every one of the capital city’s balls – sometimes more than one in the same week – all of which activities she noted in her diaries. After four years as a student of John Börjeson at the Konstakademi, she then continued her studies in Paris. She painted at Académie Colarossi and learned how to sketch from Gaston Rodriguez. The academy professor Alexandre Falguière took her on as a private student. During 1896 he would visit her studio twice a week in order to give her work his critical appraisal. Sometimes she would work at his studio and and even served as a model for his portraits.
In the summer of 1885 Carolina Benedicks-Bruce visited the artists’ colony at Grèz, near Paris, and there she met William Blair Bruce, a Canadian artist who was three years her junior. They got engaged just a few months later, but did not marry until 1888. Their families were initially dead set against the match, particularly Carolina Benedicks-Bruce’s brother Gustaf. William Blair Bruce had apparently suffered from a nervous breakdown following the loss of 140 of his paintings in a shipwreck en route to an exhibition in Canada. Gustaf Benedicks demanded to see William Blair Bruce’s medical records before he would agree to the engagement. Following their delayed wedding in Stockholm the Benedicks-Bruce couple moved to the Continent where they lived a nomadic life, spending a few years in Paris and Menton, one year in Rome whilst their longest time of 5 years was spent in Grèz.
The marriage served as an artistic catalyst for both of them. Carolina Benedicks-Bruce exhibited in the annual salons in Paris and displayed about 10 sculptures through the Société des Artistes Français, as well as exhibiting nearly two dozen watercolours and paintings through the French art group Les Indépendents. Her sculptural debut was a sculptural group called L’amie de la famille (in SwedishApa och Katter), which she sent from Rome in 1890. In 1893 she gained honorary mention for her sculpture Baigneur blesse (Den sårade badaren). Her portrait of the French painter Edouard Dantan also received a lot of attention as did the major piece L’Obsédé(Den besatta) which comprises an older man burdened with the weight of the woman he is carrying on his back, whilst the god of love, Amor, sits unmoved on the ground. In 1903 the French state purchased Carolina Benedicks-Bruce’s watercolour called Canards sur l’eau (Vildänder i vatten). Despite William Blair Bruce being a more frequent exhibitor than his wife he was not satisfied with the public support he received. When he was rejected by the Stockholm Exhibition in 1897 Carolina Benedicks-Bruce arranged a solo exhibition for him in Stockholm. She continued to promote his art in the coming years. Her work called Självporträtt med maken clearly depicts her active role as it shows her looking at a relief whilst her husband, standing behind her, is looking over her shoulder. He is standing in her shadow with a somewhat downtrodden look. She is the focus in the light with finely detailed facial features and a slightly opened mouth. She is the one who is in charge. William Blair Bruce quite rightly called her his ‘sculpture queen’.
Between 1889-1906 Carolina Benedicks-Bruce and William Blair Bruce spent most of their time in France, although they also undertook study- and leisure-trips to Lappland, Dalarna, Gotland, and indigenous settlements in Canada. William Blair Bruce became particularly enamoured of Gotland, where the landscape reminded him of Canada. They bought a cottage in the fishing village of Själsö with a large surrounding bit of land. The cottage was constructed according to his designs and was completed by the summer of 1900. ‘Brucebo’, as it became known, increasingly became their settled residence where they each had their own studio. However, there were other distractions. William Blair Bruce began to take an interest in archaeology and speleology whilst Carolina Benedicks-Bruce gave into her passion for all kinds of animals. Following her husband’s death due to a heart attack in 1906, Carolina Benedicks-Bruce became largely permanently resident in Gotland. She organised his memorial exhibitions in Paris and at the Konstakademi in Stockholm. She participated in the Förening Kvinnliga Konstnärer (female artists’ association) exhibitions and held her own solo exhibition in 1924, but she only intermittently created sculptures. An exception is the portrait of the pianist Wilhelm Kempf that she completed in 1923. Instead she was very active in social issues. Carolina Benedicks-Bruce was a member of the board for the town council, Hushållningssällskapet (agricultural society), Kyrkorådet (church council), Hönssällskapet (poultry association), Landsföreningen för kvinnans politiska rösträtt (national association for women’s suffrage), and the Förening för Get- och Kaninavel (goat and rabbit breeders’ association). She was a member of the ‘lotta’ (women’s voluntary defence) corps and campaigned to keep the Burmeier house in Visby.
Carolina Benedicks-Bruce died at Brucebo in 1935. She is buried beside her husband at Västkinde cemetery. After her death Brucebo became a local museum.
Carolina Maria Benedicks-Bruce, www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/CarolinaBenedicksBruce, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon. Article by Irja Bergström. Translated by Alexia Grosjean. Retrieved 2021-05-27. CC-BY.
The bird’s nest from Nationalmuseum.