Saturday, September 26, 2009

Private Quarters

August Strindberg has been at the back of my mind, like a stern shadow of Northern European wind-chill, since the show at Tate Modern four years ago. I occasionally pick up the catalogue, particularly when I want to look at really free, small-scale painterly landscape. Somehow his worked is twinned in my mind with the young German painter Uwe Henneken whose work is little known in this country but who shows frequently in New York and Berlin, and whose non-figurative works are sometimes strikingly similar. Henneken also uses the form of the oval and and paints landscapes with foregrounds that inhabit the edges of the picture, that look like a doorway, a surround. Landscape as gateway. I look at reproductions of their work together; turning pages simultaneously. They shed light on each other.

I was recently in Stockholm, land of Strindberg, and took the opportunity to visit Strindberg's apartment, now preserved as a museum. Strindberg lived in some 25 apartments in Stockholm however the Strindbergsmuset is the last surviving and where he spent his final years before his death in 1912.

The apartment at the top of a grand house, reached by rickety old lift, but I preferred to take the stairs. An adjoining flat is a museum proper, with paintings and papers, posters of Strindberg plays and props in display cases. There is also a small bookshop and on a separate floor the Strindberg library, but the flat is what people really come to see.

You have to put covers over your shoes and you enter into a small hallway, off which is a tiny neat bathroom. The flat is dark, bookish, masculine; it comprises only three small rooms, and would be musty if it were not so well kept. There is a hushed reverential atmosphere as tourists, a handful at a time, pad through the preserved three rooms in their big plastic slippers. A sign tells you the furnishings are mostly replias, as close to the originals as possible, but that the furniture and books, the fixtures and fittings, are all Strindberg's.

I enjoyed looking around the sitting room, which with its piano and dining table looks like it has played host to a thousand earnest conversations. It is all dark reds and greens, brass gas lamps, and heavy drapery. The scene of a séance. I inspected the writing desk, which is as he left it but I was beginning to feel voyeuristically ghoulish. We were at one stage alone in the flat, but even so I was beginning to have the very odd sensation that I was being watched, and when I turned into the bedroom, that most personal of spaces, I apologised inwardly to Mr Strindberg. The flat is interesting, but I'm not so sure how valuable it is to look over a dead artist's effects; I realy felt as though I was intruding.


Drottninggatan 85
11160 Stockholm