Gösta Adrian-Nilsson


Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, “Knockout”, 1929, Oil on Canvas, 46 x 44 cm, Private Collection

Born in Lund, Sweden, in April of 1884, Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, known as GAN, was an artist working in both oils and watercolors, and writer of poetry and short stories. He is regarded as a founding member of the Modernist art movement in Sweden.

For his early education, Gösta Adrian-Nilsson attended a Technical Company School; he later studied at Danish historical painter Kristian Zahrtmann’s School in Copenhagen. In 1907, he entered his work in an exhibition held at the Art Museum of the University of Lund.  Adrian-Nilsson traveled to Berlin in 1913 where through author and critic Herwarth Walden’s gallery, Der Sturm, he came in contact with the contemporary art movements.

Both Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc were of huge importance when Adrian-Nilsson began developing his own style of expressive cubism, a semi-abstract style with deep, vibrant colors. Adrian-Nilsson became very influential in the radical art movement and was a member of the Halmstadgruppen, a group of avant-garde artists at Hamstad, Sweden, which continued unchanged until 1979. This group eventually included painter and sculptor Alexander Archipenko, painter and graphic artist Erik Olson, Sven Jonson, and Esaias Thorén. Initially cubists, the group was influenced later by Adrian-Nilsson’s surrealistic phase and his motifs of seamen.

Adrian-Nilsson was fascinated by modern technology and masculine strength, which was reflected in his images of sailors and sportsmen . Works of this nature include the 1914-15 “Katarinahissen I”, depicting two sailors amid a cubist blue-toned landscape, and “Sjömän i Gröna Lunds tivoli II”, a surrealistic work in blues and browns depicting sailors in Gröna Lund’s amusement park. Living a hidden life at a time that gay eroticism was both taboo and illegal in Sweden, Adrian-Nilsson expressed himself through these cubist and surreal images. 

By 1919, Adrian-Nilsson’s art was developing into pure abstraction. He lived in Paris between the years 1920 and 1925, during which time he met Alexander Archipenko and Fernand Léger whose influence can be seen in Adrian-Nilsson’s renderings of mechanically-styled sportsmen, seamen and soldiers. In the later part of the 1920s, Adrian-Nilsson was working in his geometric abstract period. He developed his own personal style of surrealism during the 1930s and exhibited his work in multiple  exhibitions, including the 1935 Kubisme-Surrealisme exhibition in Copenhagen.

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson died in Stockholm on March 29, 1965 and is buried at the cemetery of Norra Kyrkogården in Lund.

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson’s work is represented at the Nationalmuseum and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Gothenburg’s Art Museum, the Malmö Art Museum, and the Museum of Culture in Lund where his work constitutes a permanent exhibition of modernistic art. Adrian-Nilsson’s writings are preserved at the University Library of Lund.

Insert Image: Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, “Katarinahissen I”, 1914-15, Oil on Canvas, 86 x 56 cm, Private Collection

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