(Art) The Nordic Folklore Illustration of John Bauer

‘Look at them,’ mother Troll said. ‘Look at my sons! You won’t find more beautiful trolls on this side of the moon’


John Albert Bauer (1882–1918) was a Swedish painter and illustrator best known for his depictions of Nordic mythology, but he also composed landscapes and portraits. Bauer was born and raised in Jönköping but at 16 moved to Stockholm to study at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, where he received his first commissions to illustrate books and magazines. While at school, he met fellow artist Ester Ellqvist, whom he married in 1906.

Bauer traveled throughout Lappland, Germany, and Italy early in his career, and these travels influenced his work, especially the Italian Renaissance and art of the Sami cultures. He died at 36, along with his wife and son, when the ship on which they were traveling sank on Lake Vättern.

The stark contrasts in his images — depicting magical happenings in a bleak landscape, or childlike figures in muted color — gives them a menace appropriate to fairy tales, which can often be quite grim. The photo-like composition, where his subjects often appear to be posing or otherwise frozen, makes his pictures seem time-less, as in existing outside time.