In 1874, 18-year old Allan Österlind began his studies at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. In 1877 he went to Paris, and enrolled in École des Beaux-Arts the following year. He wanted to study sculpture, but his teacher recommended that he instead become a painter. He became well known for his watercolor paintings. In 1893 he visited Spain, making several sketches from which he would later paint watercolors. After the death of his wife in 1916 he developed severe depression, and died in poverty in 1938.
The first of Österlind’s paintings in this article is Modell Framför Staffliet (Model in front of the Easel). The watercolor painting is approximately 20 inches by 29 inches. I was surprised to see that this painting was sold in 2014 for $409, and again in 2021 for $328. A beautiful painting by a famous artist sold for what seems to me to be a low price in 2014, and in spite of inflation sold for less in 2021. The girl’s right hand is positioned as if she has drawn back the bowstring, yet the bow is flexed very little if at all. If the model actually held back the bowstring, it would be difficult for her to hold the pose for any reasonable length of time.
The next painting is Spansk Gatuscen (Spanish Street Scene). This 24-inch by 19-inch oil painting, like most paintings in this article, is not dated. It was painted some time after Österlind’s 1893 trip to Spain. Spansk Gatuscen, like Modell Framför Staffliet, is a realistic depiction of a scene familiar to the artist.
Råttfångaren från Hameln (The Rat Catcher from Hamelin) is Österlind’s interpretation of the Pied Piper legend. The oil painting is approximately five feet long by two feet wide. The haunting expressions on the faces of the doomed children is typical of the dark style that is present in many of Österlind’s later paintings. In the standard version of the legend the piper led the children into a cave. In an alternate version, apparently the one used for this painting, they were drowned in the river. According to records in the city of Hamelin, this incredible event actually happened in the year 1284. Österlind painted both the piper and the girls dressed in 1890s style, contemporary with the painting. This contributes to the somber mood of the painting by making the incident appear as happening in the present, rather than “once upon a time” in an ancient fairy tale.
Thirteen children in the front of the line are all girls. Details of the children farther behind are hazy, but they may also be girls. Why did Österlind not include any boys among the ill-fated children? Did he think girls would arouse more sympathy? Did he like painting girls better than boys? One of the girls looks directly at the piper, and he looks back coldly, not in malice, but in what seems to be a complete lack of emotion.
The last painting is titled in French Autour de l’enfant (Around the Child). It is a watercolor, slightly larger than three feet by two feet. As in the previous painting, the facial expression of the child is disturbing. I am not sure what is happening in this painting. It appears that the girl is either being treated for an injury, or is being treated for a disease by bloodletting, which continued to be practiced into the early part of the 20th century. The child’s face is in the light, and is more realistic than that of the adults in the painting. She is staring at the viewer in apparent fright, while the adults are calm. There is something disturbing about the scene.