Swedish-American Works from the Hillstrom Collection

November 23, 2009 - January 29, 2010


Images of paintings in the exhibition


(above: Henry Mattson (Swedish-American, 1887-1971), Inlet, c.1930, Oil on canvas. Gift of Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom)


Mattson was born in Gothenburg, Sweden, coming to Boston in 1905 to join his brother, who already lived there. He settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he took night classes in art at the Worcester Museum School while working as a machinist in a factory during the day. He returned to Sweden in 1913 and attempted to enroll in the Valand School of Art, but was rejected when the instructor decided he could not draw. Mattson moved back to the United States, living in Chicago for a time until 1916, when he went to Woodstock, New York, to study with fellow Swedish-American painter John F. Carlson (1874-1945), one of the key members of the Woodstock Art Colony. Mattson decided to dedicate himself to being an artist, settled permanently in Woodstock, and lived there the rest of his life.

Mattson's work has been labeled both mystic and romantic, and his paintings were typically begun without a definite plan or subject. He described how he would blend colors on his canvas, and eventually forms would emerge almost unconsciously. The subject of a work would announce itself in this way, and Mattson would then develop it further. The sea was a frequent subject for the artist, one that fascinated him and filled him with a sense of fear and awe. Mattson frequently would observe it for hours, later painting images based on memory back in his studio. His intention was not to perfectly reproduce any particular aspect of the sea, but to capture a sense of its power.

This painting of an Inlet hints at that power. Mattson manipulates the viewer's attention, drawing the eye around the rocky promontory in the center of the picture. Beyond that, presumably, is the sea, and the artist uses a misty, bluish tone to indicate light and water in the distance. The blues, grays and greens are typical of the artist, and are punctuated with whites, most prominently in the bright tones of the bark of a birch tree and in the water splashing on the rocks. Both this type of subject matter and the artist's preferred color choices were cited by critics as influence from Mattson's Scandinavian background.

The abstraction in the painting is obvious, and shows Mattson distancing himself from his one-time teacher Carlson, whose approach was more analytically Impressionistic. Mattson moved away from Carlson's method towards an abstracted Expressionism that typifies works of his maturity such as this one.

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