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  • Writer's pictureConor O' Connell

Top 5 artists that inspire me: 5. Bruno Liljefors (1860-1939)

Last on this list, but certainly not least, is a Swedish artist called Bruno Liljefors- a man who is widely regarded as one of the most important wildlife painters of all time. His artwork remains brilliantly unique in the wildlife art scene to this day, and his art has inspired generations of both wildlife and landscape artists alike, including yours truly.

Those who have been reading my previous blog entries will know that I put a huge emphasis on detail and a sense of movement into my wildlife art- the latter only being achieved by acute observation from life- and at the same time a loose, almost impressionistic background. Well, this artist was by far the master of this style.

Bruno Liljefors was born in 1860 into a poor Swedish family. His talent at drawing was recognised at an early age. He studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, spending three years there. He would go on afterwards to learn to draw and paint animals, a move which would eventually earn him a great deal of fame and success. He was a member of the 'opponents', which was a group of artists in Sweden who were disillusioned with the conservative nature of the Academy, at a time where many new, exciting things were happening in the art world.

As I have mentioned in the Archibald Thorburn post (another equally pioneering wildlife artist), the late nineteenth century art scene did not place much emphasis on wildlife art; ordinary folk would probably only have been familiar with a handful of wildlife artists such as Edwin Henry Landseer (the man behind the famous 'Monarch of the Glen'). The depiction of birds and animals in art was for the most part relegated to natural history publications- for science and learning rather than gallery-type art. These works were often stiff and unconvincing- looking , only concerned with the scientific, anatomical aspects. Bruno Liljefors was one artist who brought about a watershed in wildlife art.

'Hawk and Black Grouse', 1884. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In contrast to a lot of the wildlife work at the time, his oil paintings portray incredibly realistic living, breathing animals in their natural habitats. Much of his work he painted outdoors. He was a keen hunter, and a large body of his paintings portray the predator-prey relationship between different animals, such as Hawk and Black Grouse above. This also enabled him to both observe his subjects from life, and obtain specimens to aid him in his work. He often took dead birds and animals and arranged them delicately among brambles and undergrowth, then painted it essentially as a still life. The painting above we know for a fact was painted in this fashion. As well as this, he also kept many wild animals as pets, providing him with a very valuable reference for his art.

'A Fox Family'. Image: Wikimedia Commons

His paintings just ooze with movement and life. In fact, so much so that you would struggle to take better photographs. To look at them you just know that they could only have been pulled off by someone who was passionate about nature and spent most of his life observing wildlife. They are by no means rigid. You don't want your art to look like you've spent countless hours putting in painstaking detail. Yes, you DO spend hours putting in painstaking detail, but you want that look of spontaneity to them, as if they were somehow painted in two hours. Look at Liljefors' paintings to see what I mean. I'll say it again, only an intimate knowledge of your subjects and how they work can achieve this. I especially love how he managed to render the softness of a fox's fur or a goshawk's feathers, using often quite loose brushstrokes. He certainly didn't paint every little fur or feather, yet you can almost feel them.

In order to be a legendary fauna painter, you must also be a brilliant flora painter. (I realise that I sound like some old master painter teaching his students. These are just my ways of conveying my opinions and what I think, as an artist myself). Liljefors paid equal attention to the landscape. His backgrounds are beautifully painted with a looseness almost akin to the impressionists. I'm no art historian, and to be honest I don't read that much about it, but I don't think it would be a long shot to in fact consider Liljefors among the impressionist painters. With many paintings, you just know that they were painted right there, out in the open air. He had such good dexterity; you can see the quick, short and confident brushstrokes he used to build up a scene. Similar, in fact, to the technique of Monet. Light is portrayed very effectively. His use of colour is masterful. He was heavily influenced by the style of Japanese woodcuts, and this is especially obvious in the likes of Hawk and Black Game above. And, to further admire this artist's work, you must remember that photography, not to mention high-speed wildlife photography, was very much in it's infancy. Yet his paintings look like photographs.

'Fox staking wild ducks'. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Looking at the art of Liljefors has in fact inspired me so much that I have recently begun to experiment with, okay not oils, but acrylic paint, which I haven't used in years. There's just something about oils or acrylics that's irresistible- it's great fun plastering daubs of thick paint onto a canvas and you can often be so much freer than with watercolour, which requires a lot of planning and thinking- it's hard sometimes to achieve a sense of creative flow with them. I do believe that it's easier to paint wildlife with watercolours though, so I'll probably stick with them for my wildlife pieces. But whatever the medium, as I always say, if my skill came the tiniest bit close to that of an artist of such a high caliber as Bruno Liljefors, I'd consider myself very lucky indeed.

As I come to the end of this list of artists who inspire me the most, thanks very much for reading and showing an interest. I hope you enjoy looking at their work as much as I enjoy hopelessly trying to match their efforts!

Please have a look at a few more fascinating works by Bruno Liljefors below.

'A cat with a young bird in it's mouth'. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

'Hunter with a shot fox'. Liljefors was an equally talented portrait artist. Image: Wikimedia Commons

'Winter Hare'. Image: Wikimedia Commons

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