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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vera Frisén - Painter of Serenity

Hi all!  Today, I would like to share something extra special with you, since it is my dad's birthday!  Happy Birthday, dad!  This one is for you!  :-D
(Ok, I'm fessing up!  My dad's birthday was yesterday; this post just took a lot longer to write than I thought it would...)

I mentioned in an earlier post that we went on an exhibition to see paintings by my father's aunt and my grandmother's older sister, Vera Frisén.  Vera was a fantastic painter, a kind and lovely person, and she lived a very interesting life.
I only met Vera a handful of times and mainly when I was a young girl.  I remember a petite, softspoken lady, with a mass of very dark hair arranged in a large knot on the top of her head.  Shy, calm, but with quick and observant eyes.  I also recall Vera's husband, Olle (Olof Stroh), as a tall gentleman, relaxed, anchored in reality, and the center of the party with a catching and boisterous laugh.  I recall, even though I can not have been many years old, that there really was something special between husband and wife.  They looked inseparably, even though they were very much their own persons.
This portrait shows Vera and Olle together, with a couple of her paintings on the wall behind them:

The exhibition that mom, dad, Littlest Sister, DH, and I went to was held at the Thielska Galleriet on Blockhusudden in Stockholm.  If you ever happen to find yourself in Stockholm with no plans, find your way out to Thielska!  The paintings are absolutely fantastic and the architecture of the house awesome.
Vera's paintings are currently exhibited temporarily together with the modern artist. Karin Granqvist (here is an example of the fresh and interesting combination of their highly individual styles).  Both artist's paintings are offered for sale.

We all had a grand time.  We were both admiring Vera's and Karin's paintings together with other, much well-known and loved Scandinavian artists, such as Edvard Munch, Bruno Liljefors, Carl Larsson to name just a few.  We were not allowed to take pictures of the fixed exhibition, but we could take photos of Vera's paintings.  Here we are!


Note to self: Next house needs to have adorable, yellow, circular, sun-room with geraniums in the window-sills, on an island next to the ocean.....  Oh, and Littlest Sister in it - that would be great!  :-)

After walking through all the floors and finding all the hidden rooms, we had coffee in the backyard with a view of the glittering ocean.  Even DH smiled for the camera and that does not happen every day!

I asked my dad to tell me about Vera's life and he sent me an e-mail last week, which I am (very loosely) translating here:
"Vera was born in Umeå 1910, as one of six siblings, to the parents Gottfrid och Jenny Frisén.  She studied painting in Stockholm at the end of the 1920:s at Otte Skölds Painting School (Otte Sköld was a professor at the University of Art in Stockholm and the President of both the Swedish National Museum and the Modern Museum). Vera became sick in tuberculosis at the beginning of the 30:s and spent years nursing her fragile health back to full strength at many different sanitariums all over Sweden. She fully recovered at the end of the 30:s and decided then to move to France and Italy to paint.
When the Second World War started in 1939, Vera had to move back to Sweden, to her parents' home in Umeå.  Her first exhibition was located at the gallery "Färg och Form" (Color & Shape) at Sturegatan in Stockholm, 1941.  Her work was well received by the critics. The next exhibition occurred in Umeå 1944.  After that, ther were no exhibitions until 1989, also this exhibit was hosted by Färg och Form.  Vera had a hard time parting from her paintings and she never had to sell them thanks to economical independence.
Vera passed away in 1990.  Vera and Olof Stroh, who was an officer in the Cavalry when they met, married in 1942.  Olle was 8 years younger than Vera and he was son of a Canadian, Alfred Stroh Ph.D., who had moved to Sweden to study Emanuel Swedenborg.  While in Sweden, Dr Stroh met his future wife Signe Bergquist.  Dr Stroh passed away when Olle was only 4 years old and the family stayed in Sweden. 
Vera definitely had her favorite motifs.  Her parents had a summer house (a converted farm) in the village of Stöcksjö about 7 km outside Umeå, where my father spent many summers and my mother and father were guests at Vera's the summer before I was born.  Close to the house lies the  Röbäcksslätten (a large meadow), where Vera painted many pictures, often with close-ups of grass strands and with small, gray barns.   Here she could also go out in the mires with the pine trees that she painted in many, many versions.  When Vera's parents passed on, she bought out the house from the siblings so that she could use that as her base for her painting.  She did also spend some time in the spring in the village of Kolksele, which is located at Vindelälven (river), where she also painted the river in many different versions.  Vera och Olle did also build a cottage at Alvaret on Öland, a circular house in local lime stone.  Here, she painted Allvaret in many different versions.
Olle was relocated to Morocco while working for WHO, 1959-60 (he was borrowed in from the Swedish Military to WHO) and Vera moved with him and painted here too.  Later, Olle became the Secreatry General fro the Swedish Red Cross.  The couple lived in Geneva for a period of time, but it is not known whether Vera ever painted anything in Geneva."
Whiew!!!  Thanks dad!!!!

Dad and I also spoke on the phone earlier today and he told me some other tidbits that I thought were interesting.
- Vera sew all her own clothes
- Vera was the second oldest child.  She had one older brother, Gustav, and her younger siblings were, in order, Oskar,  Kurt, Hjördis (my charming and very much missed grandmother), and Kerstin.
- My grandmother was a promising singer with a beautiful voice and wanted very much to study song.  Her mother put an end to these dreams by stating that "One artist in the family is enough!"
- Vera's brother Kurt was an officer in the Swedish Cavalry and he brought home one of his officer friends, Olle Stroh, for dinner one day.  Very, who was pretty shy and introvert, hid in the closet when she heard that company was over.  Well, she couldn't hide there all night, so she finally had to come out and that was the first time she met her future husband.
- Olle became Secretary General for the Swedish Red Cross and served between 1960 and 1978.  There is a book about Olle written by Claes-Göran Landergren and published in 1999, called "Faithful to an Idea: The Book about Olof Stroh, Secretary General Swedish Red Cross 1960-1978". Vera and Olle travelled a lot together through Olle's work and this is where Vera got the chance to paint more exotic landscapes. 
- Vera and Olle never had children.  After selling out all her paintings during her very first exhibition, Very broke down and, obviously in pain, stated that "It is like selling your own children".  She did not take initiative to exhibit her art again.
- Vera was very productive.  She developed a technique that would allow her to paint very quickly.  This made it possible for Vera to catch the special and unique, hard-to-catch atmosphere that only the special short-lived type of light gives us.  She painted the clear summers, the dusk over the mires, the dawn in the forest, and the early morning mist.
- Vera hated to paint hands...
- She was a very gifted portrait artist, and my parents have some of Vera's pencil sketches of themselves that are pretty extraordinary. 
- The exhibitions that have been held after Vera's death has been through her extended family, who inherited all her art.  The entire collection was divided up and distributed to the decedents of her siblings.
- Olle passed on in 1989 and he was followed by Vera in 1990.
- In 2008, Felicia Tolentino wrote her dissertation on Vera's work; this work is based on the paintings that my father's younger sister and her husband inherited.  You can read the abstract here and if you speak Swedish, the dissertation is down-loadable.  :-)  If you don't read Swedish, you can at least see more of Vera's paintings in the document.
Here are a couple of Vera's self portraits (note the lack of hands!  ;-)):

Finally, I am so very lucky to be part of a very generous family.  DH and I have a few paintings at home.  Last time we were home, we also got to pick out a painting fro my MIL from my parent's collection!
I chose to hang both of my framed paintings in the guest bedroom (they are framed because they were unsold paintings from a couple of exhibitions).  I think that they are really beautiful!   As usual, pictures do simply not make these pieces justice.  (Note the IKEA "art" in form of lampshade and plush toys; a bunny driving a carrot car and a giraffe driving a strawberry....)

Well, time to jump into bed!  If you read all of this - thank you so much!  I know that it has nothing to do with stitching, but this is my dad's heritage, so it feels really important to me, and I am so happy and proud to be a part of my family.

Well, time to stop blubbering...  I'll show you how finishing Friday went some other day.  :-)
Happy Stitching and talk with you in a bit!


  1. What a great story. I love these amazing paintings.
    You have a beautiful family!

  2. Å vilket fint inlägg. Blir alldeles rötd (du känner ju mig ;) ). Sniff!
    Inte visste jag att det fanns en bok om Olle, det måste jag undersöka närmare.

  3. How great to know so much about your family's history. Details make it more interesting - like Vera did not like to paint hands. Happy belated birthday to your father. Our anniversary, DH's birthday, DS's birthday, sister and sister-in-laws birthday are all in May. Solid Taurus's all.