The Halmstad Group history history

Six artists decide in 1929 to form a group. The young men share a common vision: to explore and establish modern art in Sweden. All have ties to Halmstad and so the group is given the name Halmstadgruppen (The Halmstad Group). The members are: Sven Jonson, Waldemar Lorentzon, Stellan Mörner, Axel Olson, Erik Olson och Esaias Thorén.

They are already educated as artists, schooled during the 1920´s in Berlin and Paris - the metropolises of avant-garde. There they learned to break up their motifs in cubist and constructivist compositions. With straight lines, right angles, and rich colours they reflect the spirit of the modern era. Sweden however retains a traditional art viewpoint; the young artists often meet considerable resistance to their "new" art. Perhaps this was one of the driving forces to unite them in a group.

The group was formed during a time of upheaval. Political and economic factors influence the art in Europe. The members of the Halmstad Group tend towards new expressions during the thirties. Surrealism dominates the group´s paintings. Now they want to reflect a new unexplored universe - the human inner world.

Dreams, the psyche, and our subconscious, but also the unrest of the times take place on the artists canvases. Physical laws and logic take a back seat to the irrational and unexpected.
The Halmstad Group participate in the international surrealist scene thanks to their previous contacts in Europe. They also introduce surrealism in Sweden at the same time that they form the artistic genre according to their own cultural identities — the Nordic light and the coastal landscape of Halland are often present in their imagery.

First half a century after its formation does it break up. This makes the Halmstad group one of the world´s longest lasting artistic associations, and an important part of Swedish art history. The Halmstad group is also the exciting story of six young men who follow their artistic dream.

The early years

In the small coastal town of Halmstad, around the turn of the 19th to 20th century, five boys were born: Sven Jonson, Esaias Thorén, the two brothers Axel and Erik Olson and their cousin Waldemar Lorentzon. They all come from simple families - craftsmen, farmers and fishermen. In Stockholm Stellan Mörner is born to an aristocratic family. All will eventually follow their artistic dreams and perform pioneering work in Swedish art history together.

The three cousins: Axel, Erik and Waldemar show an interest in art and painting already in their early teens. In their juvernile works artistic motifs are found in nature and sites around Halmstad. When they attend the Baltic exhibition in Malmö in 1914 however they see a work by the world famous artist Kandinsky; his nonfigurative art with abstract, dynamic compositions and symbolic colour use had never before been shown in Sweden. Kandinsky´s way of painting changes the boys´ way of looking at art and opens a completely new world. Together they form a group: Gnistan (The Spark) in 1915. They paint, write poetry, and travel to Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Malmö to see art and be inspired. In 1919 the group shows at an exhibition of amateurs in Halmstad and the work of the young men is discovered by Egon Östlund, a machine engineer and art lover with prodigious contacts in the art world — among others the artist Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (GAN) who plays an important role for the young Halmstad artists.

That year, the Halmstad boy Esaias Thorén sees a modernistic painting in a shop window; Sparmann´s Flight by GAN. This first meeting with modern art prompts Thorén to start paining. Sven Jonson grows up in Söndrum just outside of Halmstad in a family of craftsmen and fishermen. He becomes a painter´s apprentice early on and eventually a painter by trade. However, several years pass before he decides to follow the artistic path.

The sixth young man who will become a member of the Halmstad Group, Stellan Mörner, spends the summers of his youth on the family estate Esplunda, near Örebro. Stellan draws and paints interiors, often using the back side of old family portraits that he finds in the attic. At this stage he only dreams of a future as an artist.

Människor är på väg till jobbet vid en industri.

Erik Olson, "Aftonlandskap", 1927

Studies in Berlin and Paris

Art is coloured by the new era - The 1920´s. The six artists: Sven Jonson, Waldemar Lorentzon, Axel and Erik Olson, Stellan Mörner and Esaias Thorén are all schooled in the typical twenties spirit which has influenced art in Germany, Italy, and France. After the First World War everything is to be built anew; industrialism gains speed, cities grow and technical innovations abound - art reflects the enthusiasm of the times.

Rationalism, optimism, and a strong belief in the future make obvious traces on the canvases. With straight lines and right angles, smokestacks and steaming machines become the motifs of the day. Artists play with geometric shapes in a limited space. The surface is important in the construction of the image, in contrast to impressionists´ pictures with their thick layers of paint, now hardly a brushstroke is visible.

When the five young Halmstad artists, filled with inspiration and optimism, show their modern art in their home town it is received with great trepidation. Sweden, with its national romantic heritage apparent in such artists as Anders Zorn and Carl Larsson, still has difficulty accepting this iconoclastic modernism. The artists´ dreams meet with resistance when no one wants to buy their paintings - or even show their work.

In 1928 Mörner comes in contact with the Halmstad artists when he visits his father who is governor of the province of Halland. The six friends decide to work together. With joint exhibitions they seek to establish modern art firmly. So in 1929 the Halmstad Group is established and in January of 1930 they have a breakthrough with their first exhibition at Göteborgs Konsthall.

En bandyspelare åker starkt lutande åt höger. Till vänster syns klippor och framför honom är en röd boll.

Sven Jonson, "Bandyspelaren", 1930

The meeting with surrealism

The Halmstad Group is established at a time when the world is in crisis. The Great Depression breaks out in the United States in 1929; in Europe the Kreuger Crash in 1932. Economic unrest spreads all over the world.

Artists all over Europe are affected by the climate and new isms flourish contrasting with the positive spirit that influenced the French art of the 20´s. In 1924 the Dadaist poet André Breton writes Le Manifest du Surréalism which will be the foundation for surrealist literature and art in Paris. Artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Man Ray, and René Magritte join the movement. The ism has its roots in Freud´s psychoanalysis which at this time has revolutionary ideas about dream interpretation and the subconscious.

Surrealism means "beyond realism" in French and challenges the rational and intellectual. In the Halmstad Group´s surrealist paintings there are often headless figures - rationality is rejected and the subconscious reigns. At this time inspiration is taken from man´s boundless inner world. The laws of physics can be violated Margin picture: Surrealistmanifestet and unity formed between the most contradictory spaces and objects.

The Halmstad Group has contact with surrealism from the 1920´s but first in the beginning of the thirties do they experiment with the ism. By 1934 the Halmstad Group has evolved into a surrealist group with links to the continental surrealists, but with the local Halland landscape as persistent inspiration.

Ett ansikte i himlen, en hand med ett öra och ben, en huvudlös figur i en tavelram.

Axel Olson, "Målaren-Sökaren", 1938

The surrealism of the Halmstad Group

The group works in parallel with the French surrealists and during the thirties follows the movement through their contact network.

In 1935 the members of the Halmstad Group takes part in the exhibition Kubisme=Surrealisme in Copenhagen and both Erik Olson and Stellan Mörner exhibit at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936 along with, among many others, Salvador Dalí.The latter half of the thirties is considered to be the pinnacle of the Halmstad Group´s surrealism. The Swedish artists´ work has their own references, compared to the international surrealists, which makes their surrealism unique. Their national and local heritage influences their imagery both in expression and content. While certain of the movement´s members, in France for example, deal more explicitly with matters such as sexuality and the dark side of the human psyche, the Swedish surrealists touch on existential questions on another level; often from a spiritual angle but at the same time with a perspective close to nature. The differences are obvious in the group´s choice of motifs. The surrealist scenes are often played out in the local coastal landscape with Nordic illumination. Beachcombing finds, fishing tackle, and the waters of Kattegat recur; almost becoming symbols for the group.

There is also another significant difference between the Halmstad Group and the international surrealists — the attitude towards religion with respect to surrealism. The surrealist manifesto bans religion from the surrealist canvases, while the Halmstad Group has a more tolerant viewpoint and sees ways of integrating the two.

Två snäckor och en gren på en strand.

Esaias Thorén, "Snäckorna", 1939

A New Era

Surrealism reflects an era formed by politics and economic unrest. Artists who are always aware of the tendencies of the times, turn away from representing reality. Instead, they become interested in mans´ psyche and the subconscious. When the second World War breaks out, the surrealists can no longer remain oblivious to reality. Perhaps the meeting with the human psyche became too burdensome?

At the start of the 1940´s the Halmstad Group symptomatically retreat from surrealism. The members regroup on the west coast and in the small stone cutter and fishing village of Söndrum, a few miles from Halmstad, there is an intensive cultural blooming named Söndrumskolonin (The Söndrum Colony). Artists such as Sven X:et Erixson, Felix Hatz, Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, Vilhelm Bjerke-Petersen and poets such as Elsa Grave and Erik Lindegren, along with many others gather here in the 40´s and 50´s. Dramatic and absurd surrealistic scenes are exchanged for nature motifs in luminous colours. The group´s members move in individual directions; nevertheless, though they take separate paths, surrealism remains a unifying tendency in their artwork. They continue to show together and the Group remains, though with looser ties.

Tavlan går i grått och bland lösa tidningsblad syns krigsplan, Hitler och blod.

Erik Olson, "Dagspressen", 1940

A lifelong alliance

The six members of the Halmstad Group — Sven Jonson, Waldemar Lorentzon, Stellan Mörner, Erik & Axel Olson and Esaias Thorén — are most famous for their pioneering contributions to Swedish art during the 20´s and 30´s. In time they developed quite individually.

During the 40´s and 50´s several of the members produced a number of public works. Today there are many frescos and other pieces to be seen in libraries, theatres, and churches around the country. These decorative works often have cubistic and concretist features — legacy from the modernism they were schooled in during their studies. During the 60´s the world is once again politicized and several of the group revert to surrealistic imagery. Despite the members´ personal development, they retain a common heritage: the meeting with modern art in a blossoming Europe, the discovery of the mesmerizing and irrational surrealism and the inspiring years with the Söndrum Colony.

The six friends remained members of the Halmstad Group throughout their lives. Only when Stellan Mörner passes away in 1979 does the group brake up. They had been united during fifty years and so comprise one of the longest artistic associations in the history of art.