fredag 29 april 2016

A theme with variations

Last week an early Tenggren painting came up for sale in Stockholm. It was very decorative, and the auction house thought it be an illustration for Aladdin, the Persian tale from Arabian Nights. I recognized it as a study for a series of decorations for Palladium, a then new-built cinema theater in Gothenburg. The Palladium was inaugurated on August 14, 1919, and was financed by Fred and Anton Kanold, two brothers in the confectionery business.
Christ and the Adulteress.
Watercolor 1919.
For the theater foyer, some dozen of paintings were commissioned from Gustaf Tenggren. In the 1970ies, the cinema was refurbished and the paintings disappeared. Only three of them were discovered some ten years ago. They all depict scenes from early silent movies that were presumably screening at the theater at the time. One of them is inspired by D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance" from 1916, and shows the scene where Christ defends the adulteress from the mob. Tenggren's signature on the sketch reveals that it was made in 1919, which is also the case with the final painting. It seems probable that Tenggren has showed the first proposal to the commissioners, but then been asked to make the paintings more realistic. 
Christ and the Adulteress, scene from D. W. Griffith's "Intolerance" from 1916.
 Decoration for theater foyer. Watercolor 1919.
It's obvious that these early painting bear a strong influence from the anti-Semitic currents that were common at the time. Cartoons with stereotype Jewish characters were published in each and every magazine and newspaper, and Tenggren, who was always eager to fulfill the commissioner's requirements, has naively followed the stream. 
After his emigrating to USA in 1920, these typecast caricatures is hard to find. An illustration for Abraham Mithrie Rhibany´s "The Christ Story for Boys and Girls" from 1923 shows the scene in more solemn depiction. 
Christ and the Adulteress.
Illustration for Abrahm Mithrie Rhibany, The Christ Story for Boys and Girls, 1923.
Watercolor 1923.
This scene obviously depicts the theme of Christ and the Adulteress as well, but as the book was aimed for boys and girls, the editor has chosen to use it to illustrate Christ healing the sick instead.