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SOCIAL REALISM: The Common People in Larger and Smaller Spaces

The Interwar period was a turbulent time in the history of Europe, not least because the Fascists took over Italy and the Nazis Germany, which eventually led to the Second World War. A central figure in Nordic art of the time was the Norwegian Reidar Aulie. His painting was influenced by the playfulness of Expressionism, to which he added an almost folksy naivism. His narrative images of the underprivileged side of society highlighted the conditions of the working class and put the spotlight on social injustices. During the Second World War, Aulie’s painting developed into political activism against the Nazi regime that occupied Norway. In Sweden, Sven X-et Erixson worked in a similar vein but the paintings he produced during the War were more an expression of the idyll that characterised neutral Sweden. A similar attitude is found in the work of Tove Jansson, whose dual cultural background, divided between Sweden and Finland, meant that she experienced both living in a neutral country and in one affected by war. However, Janson’s painting was not of a political character. Her focus was on the experiences of the common people, with a psychological touch expressed in works featuring self-portraits, interiors and still lifes with a precious sense of narrative.

Peter Weiss, who came to Sweden as a refugee from Nazi Germany, was, just like Tove Jansson, both an artist and an author. In his painting, Weiss set out from a classical, realistic tradition with its roots in a Central European cultural heritage, with a strong narrative thread that feels very relevant in our time. His writings were characterised by his political interest, most evident perhaps in his novel The Aesthetics of Resistance, in which he portrays art as a powerful movement of resistance against all forms of abuse of power