Lauréus was a pioneer in Romantic painting and a cosmopolitan. The exhibition is based on new research and reassessment of Lauréus’s art. The artist’s time in Rome receives attention as the apex of his artistic output. Alexander Lauréus’s art was last displayed in a monographic exhibition 40 years ago at the Sinebrychoff Art Museum.
Alexander Lauréus (1783–1823)
Alexander Lauréus was born in Turku, where his artistic gifts were noted at an early stage.
Aged just 19, he left for Stockholm to study at the Royal Swedish Academy. Upon completion of his studies, Lauréus made a successful career for himself as an art painter in Stockholm. His works were on display at the annual Academy exhibitions, and his clientele expanded year after year.
In Stockholm Lauréus also met his life partner Charlotta Thynelius, with whom he lived in a common-law marriage. The couple travelled to Paris together in 1817.
In 1820 they continued their journey to Rome. The encounter with light, sun and Italian culture made a great impression on Lauréus, and his sojourn in Rome became the apex of his artistic output. Alexander Lauréus caught febrile illness in Rome and died in 1823 at just 40 years of age. He is buried in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome.
Lauréus in Stockholm
For the young student, the move from Turku to the capital of the realm, Stockholm, was a big step. Lauréus visited the royal art collections and viewed the Dutch paintings of the seventeenth-century. Inspired by the Golden Age of Dutch art, Lauréus was interested in firelit scenes from early on. He specialized in depicting indoor scenes and landscapes lit by a candle, torch or open fire, and often by the moon. Many of the themes are familiar from older art: figures in a window, women at their daily chores, and learned men in the library. Lauréus became a pioneer of Romantic genre painting in Europe.
In Stockholm, Lauréus often depicted people of different social classes in squares, inns and wine cellars. He brought painting closer to the culture of entertainment. Ordinary people’s everyday life was still an unusual theme in painting of the day, nor was it much appreciated in the academic art world, which preferred ancient history and biblical themes. Lauréus depicted workers, soldiers and noble gentlemen, often in inns. The innkeepers and serving staff were generally women. In many works, they are the victims of male harassment, such as in the painting Hussars in an Inn (1810).
His works often contain humorous features. In the painting A Well-watered Man (1808), the gentlemen stumbling home with unsteady steps is a comic figure. His painting Party at the Parsonage (1815) is also humorous. The topic of the work is loosely based on Anna Maria Lenngren’s poem The Countess’s Visit (1810), about the visit of a countess and her daughter to a priest’s house. Lenngren highlights the comic effect produced when the priests and bourgeoisie try hopelessly to imitate and flatter the aristocracy.
Windows open to Europe
Lauréus travelled to Paris in 1817 with his life partner Charlotta Thynelius. In Paris, Lauréus depicted national celebrations, such as the revels in honour of the king in St Louis Celebration in Paris I and II (1819), as well as the disappearing folk culture, such as the street peddlers who had migrated from the countryside and were dressed in traditional costumes.
Lauréus’s workspaces in Paris were not suitable for oil painting; therefore, he did a large number of drawings there. One of the few oil paintings completed by Lauréus in Paris is A Rural Woman Selling Grapes to Savoyard Boys (1819). Lauréus had clearly used The Cherry Seller (1817) from the Cris de Paris series of Carle Vernet as a model.
After two and a half years in Paris, Lauréus continued towards Rome in the spring of 1820. The time in Rome was a period of strong creative power for Lauréus, and he painted his key works here.
Lauréus depicted Romans’ daily life. Paintings of ruins and monks tied in with Lauréus’s Romantic tradition. Il Vignaruolo or a Vine Grower’s Family (1822) is an idealized presentation of the simple life on the outskirts of Rome. The wonderful mastery of light shown in the paintings A Praying Monk (1822) and A Monk in a Ruin which Has Been Made into a Wine Cellar (1823) shows how far Lauréus’s technique had developed. Lauréus began to paint even larger paintings and in Rome his imagination took flight, as may be seen in his final, unfinished, work, Street View in Rome (1823).
Lauréus was highly praised for the depictions of folk life he painted in Italy, and the leading Swedish art collectors, such as Crown Prince Oscar and Count Gustaf Trolle-Bonde bought his works.