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 Nils Gren  (1893 - 1940)

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Lived/Active: California / Sweden      Known for: still life, townscape, graphics

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Ad Code: 4
Nils Gren
from Auction House Records.
Boat House
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Sweden on April 20, 1893. In 1912 Gren (né Ahgren) sailed for Australia and intended to stay for only a short while. Due to the upheaval of WWI it became necessary for him to remain in Sydney. About 1919 he immigrated to the U.S. and spent his first few years in NYC where he worked as a designer for a pattern manufacturer. By 1925 he had moved to southern California where he studied art with Stanton MacDonald-Wright. He lived in Los Angeles for only a few years before making his final move to San Francisco in the late 1920s. About 1930 he destroyed all of his earlier paintings; any works now extant are those done during the 1930s. During that period he produced lithographs for the WPA project. Gren was active in San Francisco until his death on Aug. 6, 1940. His oils are mostly still lifes, a few landscapes, and scenes of San Francisco. Exh: Painters & Sculptors of LA, 1926; Modern Art Society of LA, 1926; SFAA, 1928-29; Paul Elder Gallery (SF), 1932 (solo); Oakland Art Gallery, 1932, 1934; Calif. State Fairs, 1930s; SFMA Inaugural, 1935, 1939 (solo); GGIE, 1939. In: Mission High School, SF (mural); Smithsonian Inst.; Oakland Museum.
Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"
Interview with the artist or his/her family; Who's Who in American Art 1940.
Nearly 20,000 biographies can be found in Artists in California 1786-1940 by Edan Hughes and is available for sale ($150). For a full book description and order information please click here.

Biography from Spencer Jon Helfen Fine Arts:
Born Nils Ahgren in Sweden in 1893, Nils Gren left his native country in 1912, making what was intended to be a short stop in Australia.  However, the advent of World War I made it necessary for Gren to remain in Sydney, and it was not until 1919 that he immigrated to the United States.

Gren first lived in New York City where he worked for several years as a designer for a pattern manufacturer, but by 1925 Gren was living in southern California.  He resided in Los Angeles, studying with Stanton Macdonald Wright and exhibiting with the Painters and Sculptors of Los Angeles in 1926, and with the Modern Art Society of Los Angeles that same year.

In the late 1920s Nils Gren moved to San Francisco, exhibiting with the San Francisco Art Association in 1928 and 1929. Around 1930 Gren destroyed all his earlier work, but went on to produce paintings with what became his signature style – nocturnes and fantastic images of people, places and objects.

Gren’s paintings were widely exhibited, including at the Paul Elder Gallery, where he had a solo show in 1932.  His work also was exhibited in many museum shows, including the Oakland Art Gallery in 1932 and 1934, the San Francisco Museum of Art Inaugural Exhibition in 1935, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and also at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 and California State Fairs throughout the decade.

Also during the 1930s, Nils Gren produced lithographs for the Works Progress Administration, and worked with other artists on murals for San Francisco’s Mission High School. He also produced a colorful mural for his friend, restaurateur and former bootlegger Isadore Gomez, for Gomez’ 848 Pacific Street restaurant.

A 1940 exhibition of Gren’s paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art prompted these comments from San Francisco Chronicle critic Alfred Frankenstein: “Mr. Gren’s best pictures are fantastic, moody, imaginative landscapes in oil, with the looping rhythms characteristic of his approach.” Later that same year Nils Gren passed away in San Francisco. His work is included in many public collections, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Oakland Museum.

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