Ingrid Rydbeck-Zuhr was a woman and artist of great accomplishment. She had a profound influence on Swedish art in the 20th century, fostering its talent and connecting it to the wider artistic world.
Rydbeck-Zuhr came from a prosperous banking family in Sweden and as a result was well placed to fulfil her desire of pursuing a career in art. As well as this, her uncle Gösta Olson was a passionate art lover and had set up a gallery space which would prove all too influential to Rydbeck-Zuhr. Her parents had also weaved a large social web of prominent Swedish individuals, which Rydbeck-Zuhr benefited from greatly. In particular, her parents’ friendship with the painter Otte Sköld (1894-1958) would prove a divisive cornerstone for Rydbeck-Zuhr.
Sköld was a beacon of encouragement to which Rydbeck-Zuhr could turn each time she, or her parents, doubted her choice in career. When her parents sent her to Paris for school, Sköld ensured she also become enveloped in the art world of France, taking her to galleries and introducing her to Swedish artists currently residing in Paris. More than any other Scandinavian country, Sweden was particularly enamoured and inspired by the work of French artists. Large colonies of painters swarmed there to study the latest styles in painting, from the impressionism of the late 19th century to the cubism of the early 20th. Paris was the beating heart of this artistic activity and must surely have been intoxicating for Rydbeck-Zuhr.
She would eventually attend the Académie Scandinave held at the Maison Watteau in Montparnasse. Sköld and many other prominent Swedish artists taught here with the aim of propagating the new, Avant Garde styles of painting. It fostered the close connection between Swedish and French art and was a place of artistic abundance from which Rydbeck-Zuhr would gain tuition.
Indeed, the influence of Sköld and others painting in much more modern moods is evident in Rydbeck-Zuhr’s oeuvre of landscape paintings. Her brush dashes across the page in light strokes, evoking her images with an upbeat rhythm of life. A stationary building does not appear grounded and dull, set amongst vivid verdant bushes and a luscious blue sky. Instead, it appears buoyant and content, invoked in a few strokes, enough to give the impression of a welcoming homestead. It is as if Rydbeck-Zuhr has conveyed the flashing image that a blink of an eye might give of a country scene, fleeting, yet all too present.
France’s artists offered more than just instruction, they also offered romance. Travelling to the south of France for a painting trip, Rydbeck-Zuhr would meet and become engaged to the son of infamous artist Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Jean Matisse. Unfortunately, her parents’ disapproval came up against Rydbeck-Zuhr’s love life, this time, and the engagement was broken off.
Living in Sweden, Rydbeck-Zuhr found encouragement from new areas whilst also maintaining her previous connections. Alongside receiving tuition from Sköld at his new painting school in Stockholm, she also attended Carl Wilhelmson’s (1866-1928) painting school. Wilhelmson garnered a positive reputation as a strong advocate for female artists and committed to having an equal number of both sexes in his classes. He also ensured students received the foundational artistic education, whilst not squashing their creativity under rules and stricture.
From female, artists, too, Rydbeck-Zhur found inspiration. She became involved with a female art group that took classes at the Royal Academy. Later in her life, she also led the art circle for the Professional Women’s Club in Stockholm. Rydbeck-Zuhr participated in and was a frontrunner for the developments in artistic practice and dissemination within her homeland.
The French connections she had fostered in Paris also remained. The gallery that her uncle, Gösta Olson, had set up was the Swedish-French Gallery. Indicative of the close connection between Swedish and French art, Olson intended to exhibit both works of native painters and those from France.
Rydbeck-Zuhr frequently exhibited at her uncle’s gallery, her vibrant, flashbang impressions of landscapes very much in tune with the mood of the current time.
All of these successes were not without difficulties, however. Her parents’ fortune was greatly impacted by a financial crash in 1932, for which her banker father was forced to take most of the blame. Rydbeck-Zuhr had to put her career on hold to support her parents. Another misfortunate to subsume her family was her uncle’s struggling magazine publication, Konstrevy. Intended to widen artistic knowledge in Sweden, Konstrevy was not selling well. Her uncle was desperate. He needed new life breathed into the magazine.
Here was the silver lining for Rydbeck-Zuhr. For nearly 20 years, she took up the mantle of editor of Konstrevy magazine. Having to do most of the work herself, Rydbeck-Zuhr was able to utilise the artistic connections she had fostered in Paris to scoop interviews with prominent artists. Most significant was an interview with reclusive and infamously evasive French artist Pierre Bonnard (1867-1947). The magazine grew to be incredibly successful, selling not only in Sweden, but also in Denmark, Norway, and Finland. Rydbeck-Zuhr was bringing art to the masses. It was praised as being a ‘breathing hole for art lovers.’
Further success came in Rydbeck-Zuhr’s love life. Recovering from the heartbreak of her broken-off engagement, in 1941 she married Swedish artist Hugo Zuhr (1895-1971). Zuhr was a renowned, much celebrated Swedish landscape painter. Strong similarities in form and feeling in the landscapes of both husband and wife can be seen. A wash of beige colours gently touching hillsides and seas and skies candied with rich blues are evident in both artists’ works. Indeed, Rydbeck-Zuhr and her husband took painting holidays together, particularly to Greece and France. Events were not all sunny, however, and her husband’s insecurity and inability to accept his wife’s artistic career impeded Rydbeck-Zuhr’s own work. She gave up her editor position at Konstrevy to care for their children and produced significantly fewer works than before their marriage.
Her husband’s death in 1971 was something of a creative prison break for Rydbeck-Zuhr. She travelled to become inspired once more, going further afield to countries such as Mexico and living with a local family. It seems she truly took inspiration not just from an observer’s perspective of an enticing landscape, but from becoming ingratiated in the way of life that surrounded the landscape as well. Painting was a living and breathing art for Rydbeck-Zuhr, a vocation, not just a career.
Unfortunately, a car accident in the 1980s prevented her from producing any more works of art. Her attention turned once more to writing. Here she continued to encourage artistic endeavour, publishing a biography of her husband’s life before turning her attention towards her own. Whilst lacking canvas and paint, Rydbeck-Zuhr was still, in one way or another, painting a rich scene of artistic life in Sweden. She is a fine example of the determination of a female artist during the 20th century, doing so much for the Swedish art scene with both paint and brush, pen and paper.
Born in Linköping.
Studied at Carl Wilhemson’s School.
Attended the Académie Scandinave Maison Watteau.
Hosted her own solo exhibition at the Swedish-French art gallery.
Editor of ‘Konstrevy’ magazine.
Married Hugo Zuhr.
Moved to Vik, Ӧsterlen. Set up a painting studio.
Husband Hugo Zuhr died.
Died in Enskede. Buried in Djursholmen cemetery.