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Submitted on
October 19, 2012
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John Bauer and his trolls

Fri Oct 19, 2012, 11:06 PM

John Bauer's life was very short and very sad. Despite this, he left behind many illustrations that later became inspiration for loads of later artists, like Arthur Rackham, Sulamith Wülfing or Kay Nielsen. Would you like to read about him and about his trolls?

John Bauer by STelaribauer12 by STelaribauer2 by STelari

36 gloomy years

Born in 1882 in Jönköping, Sweden, he grew up with two brothers and a sister, Anna, who died very early, at the age of 13, which badly effected John and his brothers and left visible marks in their minds for the rest of their lives. Their father used to own a charcuterie and the apartment they lived in was located above the shop.

He started sketching very early in his childhood, although there is no formal date known. In 1898, when young Bauer was 16, he moved to Stockholm to study art and two years later he started attending to the Royal Swedish Academy of Art.

The Academy was also a place where he met his future wife, Esther Ellquist, who later became his model in many of his paintings and illustrations. After they got married in 1906, they set off for Italy and Germany in 1908. It took two years before they returned.

bauer3 by STelaribauer10 by STelari

Darkest circles

In 1916, a son of Esthel and John was born and named Bengt. But this didn't change much in John's situation - the world was at a hopeless war, his marriage was slowly falling apart and Bauer himself suffered from self-doubts and depression, which was obviously caused in a huge part by the mentioned problems.

However, Bauer made attempts to save his family and his life. He bought a new house in Stockholm and in November 1918 John and his family were on their way there. A bit earlier this year, in October, all the Sweden was in mourn after a terrible train accident (it was the worst train accident in Sweden ever, killing at least 42 people, of whom many was burned alive after they survived the crash itself). Keeping that in mind, they planned to get to Stockholm on a ferry, the Per Brahe steamer.

On the 20th of November 1918, Per Brahe had an accident. John Bauer, his wife and their son - none of them survived.

bauer4 by STelaribauer6 by STelari
bauer7 by STelaribauer9 by STelari

Paintings and illustrations

As I've said before, John Bauer's illustrations were an inspiration for many later creators, out of which the most famous one was Arthur Rackham. And Bauer himself was in his earliest paintings strongly inspired by works of Albert Engström and Carl Larsson. His depictions of trolls are often said to be a cannon visualisation of these legendary creatures and are easily connected with Scandinavian folklore.

He used to illustrate a yearly fairy-tale book, Bland tomtar och troll, thanks to which he became famous in 1907 and his most popular artworks were those published in 1912-1915.

It is quite obvious that Bauer had a finely defined style, easy to recognise after you meet one. His works often have something darker hidden underneath, the presented situations are often set in gloomy surroundings, but at the same time they usually contain a brighter, more positive detail.

He's one of the most famous representants of the Golden Age of Illustration.

bauer11 by STelaribauer8 by STelaribauer5 by STelari

Some other interesting facts

His works were mostly square or almost square.
He was mentioned in Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.
His illustrations are used as covers of Mortiis ambient albums.
Some private schools in Sweden name their classes after his characters.

bauer1 by STelaribauer13 by STelari
bauer14 by STelaribauer16 by STelari

Source of images:
Bauer's photo - public domain
Illustrations - my private collection of prints

Add a Comment:
rubbe Featured By Owner Oct 4, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
they drowned on the ferry though.
Beltaneh Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2014
I have never heard of him before. Sad life but a great artist indeed.
- I'm not sure how this is going to sound, but his style reminds me a little bit of yours somehow (it's a compliment, of course!) :)
STelari Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
Bauer is one of my main inspirations, so no wonder (:
I understand your concern, it's very risky to comment "this reminds me of", generally. It's much easier to offend than not with that.
Beltaneh Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2014
Yes... thanks goodness you took it the right way :)
STelari Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2014  Professional Traditional Artist
To be fair, that's only because Bauer is my inspiration. 
Beltaneh Featured By Owner Jul 1, 2014
I'm quite ignorant in art matters, but you always have interesting (-> not so common) references. It is a breath of fresh air
AnathePirate Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I loved this. Truly. Bauer was, from the first time I learned about him and his art, one of my favorite artists..strongly for his trolls. Both his and Rolf Lidberg's trolls have influenced characters of my own.
Le-Regard-des-Elfes Featured By Owner Nov 13, 2012   Digital Artist
Beautiful tribute! Very interesting article! :love:
chricko Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2012
He is my absolute favorite artist!
Beautiful tribute!
STelari Featured By Owner Nov 2, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Good to know :nod:
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