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Bror Nordfeldt

 (1878 - 1955)
Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt was active/lived in New Mexico, New Jersey, Kansas / Sweden.  Bror Nordfeldt is known for modernist figure, landscape, still-life, print.

Bror Nordfeldt

Biography from the Archives of askART

A Swedish immigrant Bror Julius Nordfeldt became one of the better known of the early 20th-century American modernist artists. He was an etcher and engraver as well as oil painter. He gained early attention for his abstract, non-academic depiction of everyday subject matter such as still lifes, portraits and figures. His treatment of Indians was startling to many as he showed them with stylistic distortion and abstraction, which conveyed an air of mystery that invited viewers to regard them as human beings of psychological depth and not just curiousity-arousing ethnic figures.

Bror Julius Nordfeldt came to the United States in 1891 at age fourteen and went to Chicago, where he took a job as a typesetter in a printing firm with a Swedish-language newspaper. His employer saw his artist talent and encouraged Nordfeldt to get formal training. Beginning 1899, he enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute and returned for several extended periods of time, living at one point in the outbuildings of the 1893 Columbian Exposition as part of the 57th Street Artists Colony.

While a student at the Institute, Nordfeldt became a mural assistant to Albert Herter who was filling a commission for the McCormick Harvester Company's entry in the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Nordfeldt went to Paris for the unveiling and remained in Europe for three years, spending most of his time in France where he studied at the Academie Julian with Jean Paul Laurens. Nordfeldt was much influenced by the painting styles of Manet, Gauguin and Cezanne and was especially taken with the strong, bold coloration of the newly introduced Fauves style. He also went to England and learned etching and woodblock cutting in London from Frank M. Fletcher. He exhibited work at the Royal Academy of London.

Returning to Chicago in 1903, Bror Nordfeldt worked as a portrait artist, a set designer for the Little Theatre, and teacher, whose students included Raymond Jonson, modernist painter whom he later joined in New Mexico.

Although he moved East in 1907, Bror Nordfeldt had two successful, attention-getting solo exhibitions in Chicago in 1911 and 1912. The first show had paintings of Chicago subjects and was held at Albert Roullier's Gallery, and the second at Thurber's Gallery featured abstract, impressionist city genre scenes and portraits. Many persons found his French-influenced modernism stylistically shocking, but others such as reviewer Harriet Monroe had a positive reaction. In the "Chicago Tribune", May 12, 1912, she wrote that the paintings were "the most ambitious and successful pictorial interpretation of Chicago which has been achieved as yet."

During World War I, Nordfeldt was in California where he worked as a camouflage painter for the Navy and was also in Europe on military duty. Previous to that, he had an exhibition entry in the San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition of 1915, winning a silver medal for an etching. Throughout his career, especially when he was living in New Mexico, Nordfeldt made many trips to California. In 1937, he exhibited work with the San Francisco Art Association.

From 1917 to 1940, he lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico and initially painted sympathetic Indian figures and used Indian motifs as design elements in his canvases. He was one of the founding members of the Indian Artists Fund, an organization dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Pueblo tribes. Encouraged by his artist friend, Russell Cowles, Nordfeldt added landscapes to his subject matter beginning 1929, but destroyed many of these paintings before leaving New Mexico.

Bror Julius Nordfeldt lived his last years in Lambertsville, New Jersey, and in 1955, died of a heart attack in Henderson, Texas.

Elizabeth Kennedy, "Chicago Modern, 1893 to 1945"
Michael David Zellman, "300 Years of American Art"
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Peter Falk, "Who Was Who in American Art"

Biography from the Archives of askART
Born Tulstorp, Sweden, April 13, 1878[1873?]; d. Henderson, Texas, April 21, 1955. Painter, Etcher, Engraver, Teacher. Family came to U.S.A. in 1891 and settled in Chicago, IL. First job was as a printer's devil with a Swedish-language newspaper in Chicago. Became a student at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1899; became an assistant to Albert Herter of New York, helped him paint a mural for the Paris Exhibition.

In 1900, went to France and remained there to study and teach. Attended the Academié Julian in 1900 as a pupil of Jean Paul Laurens, then went to London to study etching and woodblock cutting as a pupil of Frank M. Fletcher, then went to Sweden for a year. Returned to Chicago in 1903 and moved east, then to Europe. After WWI, moved to Santa Fe and remained there until 1940.

Taught at the Wichita Art Association in 1933 and spent the winter in Wichita painting Kansas scenes and portraits.

Susan Craig, "Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945)"
Wichita Eagle (Jan. 29, 1933); Who’s Who in American Art. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1936- v.1=1936-37 v.3= 1941-42 v.2=1938-39 v.4=1940-47.1; American Art Annual. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1898-194720-22; Museum of New Mexico; Harmsen, Dorothy. American Western Art; a Collection of One Hundred Twenty-Five Western Paintings and Sculpture with Biographies of the Artists. [Denver}: Harmsen Publishing Co., 1977.; Julian; Porter, Dean A, Teresa Hayes Ebie, Suzan Campbell. Taos Artists and Their Patrons, 1898-1950. South Bend, IN: Snite Museum of Art, 1999.; Coke, Van Deren. Nordfeldt, the Painter (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972); B.J.O. Nordfeldt, An American Expressionist. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984); The Woodblock Prints of B.J.O. Nordfeldt: a Catalogue Raisonne. (Minneapolis: University Art Museum, 1991); AskArt, "" , Accessed Dec. 21, 2005; Dawdy 3: Dawdy, Doris Ostrander. Artists of the American West: A Biographical Dictionary. Volume 3. Chicago: Swallow Press, 1985..

This and over 1,750 other biographies can be found in Biographical Dictionary of Kansas Artists (active before 1945) compiled by Susan V. Craig, Art & Architecture Librarian at University of Kansas.

Biography from Mark Sublette Medicine Man Gallery
Bror Julius Nordfeldt was a Swedish immigrant to the United States who moved to Chicago as a fourteen year-old boy. There, he worked as a typesetter at a Swedish-language newspaper, where his superiors noticed his artistic talent and urged him to pursue a career in art. To that end, Nordfeldt enrolled in the Chicago Art Institute in 1899 and began studying etching, engraving, drawing and painting. He developed quickly, and moved into the 57th Street Artists Colony. A prominent local mural painter, Albert Herter, eventually hired the young Nordfeldt to assist him with his latest project: a commission from the McCormick Harvester Company to paint their entry in the Paris Exhibit of 1900. Nordfeldt accompanied the piece to Paris when it was shipped and installed, and ended up staying in Europe for three years.

Nordfeldt's time in Europe was primarily in Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian with Jean Paul Laurens. He was heavily influenced in his time there by the work of Manet, Gauguin and Cezanne, and a Fauvist influence became quite apparent in his work. He had an opportunity to study woodblock cutting in London, and displayed work at the Royal Academy of London. The experience was eye-opening, and the style that resulted didn't sit well with some American audiences upon his return. America was still very much enamored of the academic realist style that had sustained painting since the renaissance, and Nordfeldt's embellishments of color and form were not appreciated by some. He had two shows in Chicago in 1907, one of which was academic in style and one of which was more closely Fauvist. The latter show caused much consternation amongst those in attendance, though it received positive write-ups in the city press.

Nordfeldt was getting close to the style that would define much of his later work, but the outbreak of the First World War brought him to California, where he painted boat camouflage, and Europe, where he served in combat units. Military service was a great distraction from a career that seemed to be emerging from obscurity, as Nordfeldt had just won a silver medal in etching at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

Upon returning to the U.S. in 1917, Nordfeldt moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he painted jazzy, motion-filled palettes of Indian figures and ceremonies, as well as untraditional portraits and still lifes. His pieces were, conceptually, a step further towards modernism than the material being produced by most New Mexico artists of the day. He was deeply involved not only in documenting Pueblo Indian tribes, but in attempting to preserve them. He helped found the Indian Artists Fund, which attempted to foster and preserve the arts of the Pueblo.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, IV
Known variously as a post-impressionist or American expressionist painter, B.J.O. Nordfeldt worked in diverse styles and media, including etchings and prints, portraiture, still-lifes, and landscapes. Born Bror Julius Olsson in Sweden, Nordfeldt lived in Chicago, New England, Santa Fe, and ultimately in Lambertville, New Jersey.

As a young man Nordfeldt sought creative ways to earn money from his art, illustrating magazines, painting camouflage for American ships during World War I, and, most importantly, producing prints and etchings. Nordfeldt invented a method of printing more than one color with a single impression. The young Nordfeldt also painted portraits of eminent people, including novelist Theodore Dreiser and economist Thorstein Veblen.

In his mid and late career, Nordfeldt turned to semi-abstract painting, developing a stripped-down style. Interested in conveying the symbolic or emotional core of his subject, its "idea-bones," Nordfeldt strove for a flattening of form and distortion of space, creating stylized images. He chose subjects laden with emotional power, especially nature and religious scenes. Nordfeldt's profound spirituality dominated his late work.


Biography from Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery
Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt
(B. J. O. Nordfeldt)

B. J. O. Nordfeldt was born Julius Olsson in 1878 in Tullstrop, Skåne, in the south of Sweden. He later took his mother's maiden name, Nordfeldt, to avoid being confused with another painter (Julius Olsson) who had become well-known in Europe and America. Nordfeldt's father, a farmer of modest circumstances, immigrated in 1891 to Chicago, where he became a house painter and contractor.

Bror, one of ten children, was thirteen when he arrived in America. In Sweden he had attended grammar school which was the equivalent of junior high school in the United States. When he came to Chicago he attended high school and worked after class hours at various tasks, the most important being a job as a printer's devil and compositor for a Swedish newspaper. This experience with printer's ink introduced Nordfeldt to the work of art. Although his sister Clara recalled that he always loved to draw and did it very well when he was a youngster in Sweden.

Because of his drawing ability his employer at the newspaper advised him to enroll at the Art Institute of Chicago. He was nineteen when he began the formal study of art and began to improve his English. During his years of study at the Institute he maintained an exhausting schedule in order to earn a living.

He worked together with his teacher Albert Herterm in 1900 on a commission for a display at the Paris Exposition for the McCormick International Harvester Company. As a reward for his major role Nordfeldt was sent to Paris to see the mural in place and to further his study as a painter.

In Paris Nordfeldt attended classes at the Académie Julian for about two weeks. Nordfeldt wanted to stay in Paris so he set himself up as a teacher. During this time he not only attracted students to his studio but also had his work hung in the Paris Salon des Français in 1901 signifying a degree of acceptance that must have been quite exhilarating for a young artist from Chicago.

After staying less than a year, Nordfeldt left France and went to England where he learned wood-block printing in the Japanese manner.

He returned to Chicago in 1903 and established a studio on 57th Street near Jackson Park. The area had a number of one-story wooden buildings originally built to serve as shops during the 1892 Chicago World's Fair. Some of his friends and neighbors were Carl Sandberg, Vachel Lindsay, and Sherwood Anderson. It was during this time that he began to use his mother's maiden name, Nordfeldt.
In 1907 Nordfeldt worked in New York as a journeyman for Harper's and other periodicals. The following year he returned to Sweden to illustrate a series of articles for Harper's by Emily Pottle. In addition to his stay in Sweden, Nordfeldt spent some time in France, Spain, Italy, and North Africa doing rather stylized drawings to accompany travel articles written by journalist Mary Heaton Vorse for Harper's.

From 1932 to 1938 Nordfeldt tended to paint in a more realistic style. In 1933 he became a guest teacher at the Minneapolis School of Art where he was a popular and inspiring teacher to his students. A trip to England in 1936 was followed by a return to New Mexico where he had first visited in 1910.
His last years of painting were involved with the invention of abstract forms and themes of the sea. He was invited to teach at the University of Notre Dame in 1954 but declined to devote his time to painting. After his death in 1956 he was honored by an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum.

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About  Bror Nordfeldt

Born:  1878 - Tulstorg, Scania, Sweden
Died:   1955 - Henderson, Texas
Known for:  modernist figure, landscape, still-life, print