Study of a man in Turkish dress

by Amalia Lindegren

December 2015

To bolster its collection of works by female artists, Nationalmuseum has acquired a fine head study by Amalia Lindegren (1814–91). During her lifetime, Lindegren enjoyed great success as an artist, known chiefly for her portraits and genre paintings. She has been represented in Nationalmuseum’s collections for over 160 years. Girl with an Orange, painted in 1855, was one of four works purchased when the Swedish government first allocated funding to Nationalmuseum for new acquisitions – exemplifying the contemporary art of the time.

In Lindegren’s youth, women still had no access to advanced artistic education in Sweden. In 1847, she was granted a special dispensation to study classical art at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. It would be another decade and a half before women were accepted as regular students. Then, in 1850, Lindegren became the first Swedish woman to receive a government scholarship to pursue art studies abroad. Her main destination was Paris, but she also spent some time in Munich, an artistic metropolis associated especially with historical painting.

One of the paintings she produced in Munich in the spring of 1854 was this head study of a man with a large, grey-flecked beard, wearing a turban and a green kaftan edged in a gold pattern. The subject is looking down with an introspective gaze. Lindegren wrote to the Academy of Fine Arts that she had completed a painting “depicting a man in Turkish dress (head and shoulders)”, and the head study was sent back to Stockholm. Keeping in touch by letter was not enough to ensure an extension of the government scholarship; it was necessary to show tangible results in the form of artworks. On 22 December 1854, under the title Turk’s Head, this painting was offered as a prize in a Christmas lottery run by the Swedish Association for Art. The winner was Fredrik Bergwall, a manufacturer from Norrköping, and the painting has remained in his family’s possession until now.

In her letter to the Academy, Lindegren also mentioned that she was working on a painting of Saint Matthew the Evangelist. The present whereabouts of that work are unknown, but the motif is not far removed from this head study. A man wearing a turban and kaftan would also be relevant in a biblical context. In both Old and New Testament scenes, artists often depicted people in the Middle Eastern forms of dress found in the Holy Land. It is not known whether Lindegren had an oriental or biblical motif in mind when she painted this study. Nevertheless, the painting has several noteworthy qualities. It is a subtle human portrait with some reflective, melancholic touches.

Picture: Amalia Lindegren, Study of a man in Turkish dress, 1854.

Amalia Lindegren, Study of a man in Turkish dress, 1854. Larger picture.

Unlike in 1855, Nationalmuseum today has no budget allocation from the government for new acquisitions, relying instead on gifting and financial support from private funds and foundations to enhance its collections of fine art and craft. The purchase of this work was made possible by a generous donation from the Hedda and N.D. Qvist Memorial Fund.

Inventory number: NM 7301


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