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Wonderful Colour. Gothenburg Colourism in a New Light – Göteborgs konstmuseum

22 April 2023–7 April 2024
The Etages and Floor 6

In the Gothenburg Colourists’ expressive painting, the grey city of Gothenburg is draped in shimmering hues. Bright colours, sweeping brushstrokes, personal subject matter and emotional visions have endeared paintings by artists such as Åke Göransson, Ivan Ivarson, Nils Nilsson, Ragnar Sandberg and Inge Schiöler to the public.

Gothenburg Colourism, a dynamic, colour-driven expressionism without comparison at the national level, had its heyday in the 1930s. It is a visually striking but also tactile style that speaks to the viewer’s senses. The motifs were chosen from the immediate surroundings: portraits and self-portraits, model studies, urban scenes and still lifes. A full spectrum of bright colours was used, creating novel modes of expression in combination with the rhythm of the brushstrokes and the thickness of the oil paint.

Experimental and sensuous use of colour

The experimental use of colour to convey moods and emotional states, as well as a playful and naively romantic idiom, are characteristics strongly associated with the Gothenburg Colourists. Colourists such as Ivarson intensified colour in saturated timbres of red, yellow, blue and green, but colourism could also be deployed more delicately, in broken hues and a shimmering play of light. In both cases, it is the intentional, inspired and sensuous use of colour that gives the painting its appeal and expressive power. Colour is not used solely in a descriptive way, it is an end in itself.

The story of the Gothenburg Colourists – the Valand Academy

The Gothenburg Colourists studied at the Valand Academy in Gothenburg under Tor Bjurström, who in turn had been a pupil of the modernist pioneer Henri Matisse in Paris. Bjurström encouraged his students’ use of colour and, during the second half of the 1920s, it erupted in their painting, which soon attracted the attention of critics.
The tale of the Gothenburg colourists is a success saga about how a handful of students at Valand, most of them from simple backgrounds, created a vital art movement with national scope. But they also have a tragic history, as several of them were affected by mental illness and died before their time. Their paintings continue to fascinate new generations of viewers, as do the myths surrounding these artists.

The visible world as motif

The Gothenburg Colourists based their works on the visible world, either direct visual impressions or images from memory. They never lost contact with reality. On the contrary, they were stimulated by encounters with the real world, and often sought out inspiring environments and landscapes such as Bohuslän, Hanhals, Bornholm or the French Riviera. Their paintings include depictions of the city of Gothenburg, such as Göransson’s cityscapes from the apartment in Landala, Ivarson’s vistas from his various studios near Järntorget and Packhusplatsen, Sandberg’s renditions of cafés and street life around Drottningtorget and Lilla Bommen, as well as images of the port, a milieu that stimulated the artists’ imagination with its salty tang of the open sea and adventures abroad.
From the beginning, the distinctive character of the Gothenburg Colourists was recognized and admired. Despite their differences, the artists’ use of colour to express a heightened vitality was something that united them. Sensual memories come to life when one views their images: the feeling of sun-tanned skin, the glittering ocean, the cool of the shade in summer, the damp in the autumn air or the slush on the city streets in winter.

Gothenburg Colourism in a new perspective

Wonderful Colour. Gothenburg Colourism in a New Light is the first exhibition of Gothenburg Colourists at the Gothenburg Museum of Art since the 1980s, thereby introducing this beloved style to new generations of visitors. Furthermore, it does this with a new perspective on an art movement with a historiography strongly marked by outdated biographical interpretations.

The exhibition presents a broader selection of Gothenburg Colourists than the core group, which has traditionally received the most attention. The most well-known names are shown alongside other previously overlooked but inspiring artists, not least the female pioneers. Furthermore, both forerunners and followers are displayed, to underline the continuity of colourism in West coast painting. The exhibition also features works by Danish and Norwegian Colourists, who were role models and parallels to the Gothenburg Colourists. In this way, the movement is placed in a Scandinavian context.

The Gothenburg Museum of Art has always been an important place for colourism in the city. The young artists visited the recently opened facilities during the 1920s and were inspired by the collection. Today, the museum has the foremost collection of colourists in the country. Wonderful Colour. Gothenburg Colourism in a New Light is a jubilee exhibition for 2023, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Gothenburg Museum of Art, and the quatercentenary of the city of Gothenburg (which took place in 2021). It is a longed-for tribute to Gothenburg’s art history.

The colourists’ sensuous world is relevant in our time, in which visual experience is often conveyed on screens and in short clips. With their lavish colours, rough-textured canvases and straggly brushstrokes, the works trigger our senses, and the viewer experiences the materials and creative process at close range. Perhaps this is also an opportunity to gain a new outlook on life, and be inspired by the artists’ longing for freedom, nature and community, both in art and in life.


A comprehensive, richly illustrated catalogue has been produced in conjunction with the exhibition. It presents new research, providing in-depth knowledge about Gothenburg Colourism in newly written essays by several researchers and writers. Highlighting the city’s importance, and questions concerning galleries, collectors and reception, as well as the artist’s role and historiography, the texts allow us to see the entire movement in a new light.

The exhibition catalogue includes contributions by Kristoffer Arvidsson, Per Dahlström, Martin Gustavsson, Andrea Kollnitz, Lydia Sandgren, Patrik Steorn, Håkan Wettre, Jeff Werner and Eva Zetterman. The catalogue is available for sale in the museum store.

Contributers to the research project
The Anna Ahrenberg Fund for Scientific and Other Purposes, The Gunvor and Josef Anér Foundation, The Alderman and Mrs Ernst Colliander Charitable Foundation, The Olle Engkvist Foundation, The King Gustaf VI Adolf Fund for Swedish Culture, The Herbert and Karin Jacobsson Foundation, The Letterstedt Society, The Wilhelm & Martina Lundgren Foundation Grants Fund, The Royal Patriotic Society, The Torsten Söderberg Foundation, The Mary von Sydow, née Wijk, Donation Fund and The Åke Wiberg Foundation.


Top Image: Ragnar Sandberg, The blue bus, 1938, (Image is cropped) The Gothenburg Museum of Art. © Ragnar Sandberg/Bildupphovsrätt 2023. Photo: Hossein Sehatlou.