The ochre yawn of autumn and the bitter sleep of winter are the preoccupations of Danish artist Axel Søeborg’s landscapes. With his singular, distinctive hand, Søeborg spent twenty years capturing the rich array of the Swedish countryside. He also had a penchant for moody interiors and contemplative, psychological self-portraits.
Søeborg’s artistic career began as a house painter, however, he soon changed his mind and turned to a finer style of art. He began his studies at the drawing school of the Vermehren brothers Gustav and Sophus, the sons of the eminent Frederik Vermehren (1823-1910). His education continued at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, as well as with lessons under figure painter Laurits Tuxen (1853-1927) and Peter Alfred Schou (1844-1914). From such a thorough education, it was the dark interiors and moody scenes of Schou which offered Søeborg the greatest inspiration.
Søeborg lends a contemplative, insightful mood to close, curious depictions of simply furnished interiors. There is a psychological intensity in the gaze of his subjects, usually himself and an unknown female sitter. They stare piercingly at the viewer. Combined with the strong use of shadow to swathe the rooms in closeness, and a beaming use of light to cast his subjects as the focus of the scenes, the viewer is drawn into an emotionally pitched scene.
Indeed, his self-portraits in particular have this intense edge. A striking Søeborg is cast in strong, almost cubist lines, facing side-on but with his eyes trained on the viewer. His gaze is weighty, brow heavily set. Søeborg’s strong use of light and shadows adds to the gravitas, lending to the scene a curious, otherworldly effect. One gets the impression of melancholy thoughts playing out behind those eyes. Combined with the darkened room beyond, there is a pensive, sombre tone.
It is interesting to contemplate what painting offered to Søeborg. Perhaps it was a mirror, in which he could reflect how he viewed himself and the world around him. The psychological focus which seems to ground these works potentially points at this point. Whatever the case, it seems clear he felt the emotional intensity of painting and used it to experiment both with the medium as well as exploring his own sense of self.
Beyond the interior Søeborg also found much inspiration from the natural world. In the twenty years he spent living and travelling around Sweden, he captured the shifting and reshaping of nature through the seasons. From Jamtland, to Dalarna, to Småland, Søeborg’s sharp psychological brush seemed to capture the emotion as well as the physical changes of nature.
Through his canny use of lighting, Søeborg seems to infuse his canvases with the mood of nature. A fire of autumn sets alight his canvas in ochre and umber, clouds the sky with gathering darkness. A silver sheet of cloying winter presses down upon a village, smothering it in snow and adding an oppressive chilliness. Then, spring comes, and cracks through the pall of stillness. Water flows crisply, reflecting the bare bow of a stretched branch. With gorgeously zesty grass and a lightening sky in the background, there is the promise of new life.
These fascinating depictions of nature and the self were not immediately great successes in the art world. However, through many exhibitions across Europe, Søeborg eventually earnt himself recognition. A solo exhibition in 1937, one of many, would seal the deal. Unfortunately, Søeborg would pass away only two years later.
Today, a number of his works are held in the Aalborg and Sønderborg Museums in Denmark.
Born in Viborg, Denmark.
Studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
Lived and worked in Sweden.
Exhibited frequently at the Charlottenborg Spring Exhibition.
Exhibited at the Glass Palace, Munich.
Exhibited at The Baltic Exhibition, Malmö.
Exhibited frequently at Bach’s Art Gallery.
Exhibited at the North Jutland Art Convention, Ålborg.
Solo exhibition held at the Art Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark.
Died in Silkeborg, Denmark.