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3 Artists, 3 Places That Inspired Them

3 Artists, 3 Places That Inspired Them

Exploring Sidney Nolan’s Melbourne, Winslow Homer’s Maine, And Hilma Af Klint’s Stockholm

Artists Sidney Nolan, Winslow Homer, and Hilma af Klint all continue to wield a massive influence over the world of fine art, yet they’re as different from one another as the places that formed them.

One of Australia’s leading artists of the past century, Nolan is often linked with his hometown of Melbourne. Meanwhile, Homer, perhaps America’s most iconic landscape painter, is inextricably linked to coastal Maine. Then there’s af Klint, the Swedish artist and mystic known for her abstract pieces, who lived a life of spiritual yearning in Stockholm.

Here’s a look at how these three artists were inspired by the destinations they’re most associated with.

HILMA AF KLINT’S
STOCKHOLM

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was more than an artist to her devotees. She was something akin to a mystic, one who, according to numerous scholars and academics, was among the first Western artists to produce abstract art. Through striking compositions of shapes and symbols, af Klint presented philosophical and spiritual concepts in physical form on canvas.

The work of Hilma af Klint, is always on display at Moderna Museet in Stockholm
The work of Hilma af Klint, is always on display at Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

She showed an early aptitude for visual art and completed her schooling in Stockholm. She studied at what’s now known as Konstfack (the University of Arts, Crafts, and Design), where she focused on portraits and landscapes, and then the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (among the first European institutions of its kind to admit women). She was awarded a scholarship in the form of a small shared studio in Stockholm and honed her talents working on landscapes, botanical drawings, and portraits.

At the Royal Academy, she met Anna Cassel, the first of the four women with whom she later worked in The Five (De Fem), a group of artists who shared a similar vision and regularly engaged in paranormal activities including organized séances. Through her work with the group, af Klint developed her idiosyncratic style with a keen focus on spirituality.

The secretive artist never knew fame during her lifetime; she refused to show her abstract pieces to her contemporaries and exhibited her works only a handful of times, mainly at spiritual conferences and gatherings. She specified that her work should be kept secret for at least 20 years after her death.

Af Klint’s collection of more than 1,200 abstract paintings is owned and managed by the Hilma af Klint Foundation in Stockholm. The city’s Moderna Museet (Museum of Modern Art) displays a selection of her works on a continuous basis. Over the years, the museum has broken down the symbolism contained in her work and peeled back the curtains behind her enigmatic persona by hosting exhibitions and events, including the 2019 world premiere of Hilma, an opera about her spiritualistic work and hidden art.

WINSLOW HOMER’S
MAINE

Winslow Homer (1836-1910), a landscape painter and printmaker, remains best known for his marine subjects.

After achieving success—first in commercial illustration, then in oil paintings—with stops in major cities such as New York, Paris, and his hometown of Boston, Homer transitioned over to watercolors and landscapes. In 1881, Homer embarked on an 18-month visit to Cullercoats, a town on the rugged northeastern coast of England, and was deeply affected as he witnessed the residents’ dealings with nature. The artist depicted the town’s fishermen and women as they battled the elements, showing them set against the unforgiving cliffs, rocks, and mountains.

Winslow Homer, painted at a Prouts Neck, Maine, studio.
Winslow Homer, painted at a Prouts Neck, Maine, studio

In 1883, Homer moved to Prouts Neck, a fishing village set on a rocky peninsula located within the town of Scarborough, in southern Maine, where he lived in the remodeled carriage house at his family’s oceanfront estate. Over the following years, Homer painted some of his most famous scenes, including Undertow (1886), which depicts a dramatic rescue of two female bathers by two male lifeguards, and Eight Bells (1886), which examines two sailors and their relationship with the sea.

Homer’s original Prouts Neck studio, where he lived and painted until his death in 1910, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965, and in 2006 it was purchased by the Portland Museum of Art (PMA). After a six-year renovation project that restored the building to how it appeared during Homer’s life, the museum began offering tours to the public. The studio’s most distinct feature is the oceanfront balcony running the width of the building.

The artist created more than a billion dollars worth of art at the studio. Winslow fanatics also flock to the PMA, whose ever-expanding Homer collection spans the artist’s entire career and includes items such as graphite drawings, book illustrations, and wood engravings.

SIDNEY NOLAN’S
MELBOURNE

Widely acknowledged as Australia’s most inventive and influential artist of the 20th century, prolific artist Sidney Nolan (1917-92) remains best known for his paintings of legends from Australian history, most famously Ned Kelly, the notorious bushranger and outlaw. His series of works about Kelly served as meditations on themes of injustice, love, and betrayal, while offering a new depiction of the intimidating Australian landscape.

Work by Sidney Nolan
Work by Sidney Nolan.

After finishing his schooling around his hometown of Melbourne, Nolan spent much of the 1940s at Heide (now the Heide Museum of Modern Art), located in the suburb of Bulleen. Heide was the vision of John and Sunday Reed, passionate supporters and collectors of modern Australian art. The couple opened their home to like-minded individuals such as Nolan.

The Heide Museum of Modern Art’s impressive collection includes some 150 pieces by Nolan. To gain a deeper perspective on Nolan’s incredibly varied output, curious types visit the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra and the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne. Each museum holds dozens of key Nolan works in their collection.

Exhibit at the National Gallery of Australia.
Exhibit at the National Gallery of Australia

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