An interview with Scandinavian Art scholar Jan Cox ahead of a public lecture in Birmingham

We had a delightful time at the Barber Institute in Birmingham, England, yesterday, in which we got to see some work by the 19th-century Norwegian artist Thomas Fearnley. Yes, we said Norwegian artist: in this case Fearnley’s family emigrated from the English county of Yorkshire in the 1750s, which makes him a prototype Worldly Scandifriend in at least one sense. Certainly Fearnley’s work is nothing short of supremely eclectic; in his short lifetime he absorbed all manner of stylistic conceits, particularly those coming to fruition within European art at the time, and produced a canon of work that we feel is as engaging as it is overlooked.

We hope to dwell on the exhibition in more intricate detail shortly, but we are all too pleased to publicise the Barber’s other Scandifriend credentials; in addition to a Scandinavian Christmas Fair later on in the month, a book club event focusing on the work of the remarkable author Knut Hamsun and a Scandinavian-themed evening this coming Tuesday as part of its Kino10 series of short film-based events, the Barber is also running a series of lectures relating to Fearnley and to Scandinavian art.

As such, we caught up with Jan Cox, PhD student at the University of Leeds, to discuss his forthcoming lecture at the Barber, entitled Scandinavian Landscapes: A Journey from Sweden to Canada. Jan is half-Norwegian himself – and very nicely acknowledged that there was some parallel between Thomas Fearnley and himself when we excitedly pointed this out! Interestingly, he also discussed his interest in Nordic art in the context of the UK’s strong historical ties with the Norway, pointing to the trading routes that have existed across the North Sea for centuries and referring us to this book by Peter Fjågesund and Ruth A. Syme dwelling on some aspects of Anglo-Norwegian relations in the 19th century.

In this sense, one thing that interested us in Jan’s ongoing academic work was his exploration into how Scandinavian artists of the late 19th century were influenced by European artists from other countries and how they in turn might have influenced others. He cited the influence of French and German art of the period upon the Scandinavian art community – another illuminating notion for us, as we instantly thought about how renowned Swedish musical composers such as Hugo Alfvén and Wilhelm Stenhammar certainly looked to their German counterparts for inspiration in the years shortly thereafter.

Jan then provided a real eye-opener by pointing to the successes of Scandinavian artists at the Paris Salon exhibitions of the 1880s; it was here that luminaries such as Christian Skresdvig and Albert Edelfelt showed that they really could be counted among the top names in European art of the period, with Skredsvig picking up a gold medal at the Salon in 1881.

Idyll (1888) by Christian Skredsvig (1854-1924)

Asked where Canada fits into the premise of his forthcoming Barber lecture, Jan discussed how exactly a century ago in 1912-13, a large exhibition of Scandinavian art went to five different locations in the US. Among them was Buffalo, just over the border from Canada. Jan says that a number of Canadian artists were inspired by this exhibition and looked to do what their Scandinavian contemporaries had done: combine natural landscape art with some vision and sense of national identity. An essay by Jan here deals in part with this watershed event.

As it was then: a publicity poster for the 1912 exhibition that is artistically impressive in its own right

A publicity poster for the 1912 exhibition that offers a challenging Modernist visual text in its own right

(Again, the parallels with other artistic disciplines are remarkable for us, not least the idea of countries affirming their national identity through culture itself. We were reminded how the Kalevala performed a vital function in Finland throughout the late 19th century and early  20th century on the country’s route to independence.)

Many thanks to Jan for lending us a few precious minutes of his time on a Sunday evening when he was trying to get back from Leicester to Leeds (especially if he was enduring the cold we have been subjected to here further south in the UK). We wish him all the best for his forthcoming lecture and in his ongoing academic studies; details of his lecture appear below, but we would also draw attention to an essay he wrote regarding the works

Jan Cox, PhD Student Researcher in Scandinavian Art at the University of Leeds, delivers a lecture entitled Scandinavian Landscapes: A Journey From Sweden to Canada, at the lecture theatre at the Barber Institute in Birmingham on Wednesday 7th November at 1.10pm. 

Thanks to the female half of Worldly Scandifriend, Ellie Pridgeon, for organising our visit to the Barber Institute. She arranged an excursion for her students at the University of Leicester, and we were lucky enough to be in attendance too. 

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One thought on “An interview with Scandinavian Art scholar Jan Cox ahead of a public lecture in Birmingham

  1. Pingback: Thomas Fearnley, a 19th-century Worldly Scandinavian | Worldly Scandifriend

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