Helmer Osslund

Motiv från Abisko (Scene from Abisko), approx 1905, Helmer Osslund, Kiruna municipality art collection

The historic paintings of Helmer Osslund will be shown in the new library in Kiruna. The exhibition emphasises the artist’s multifaceted and colourful depictions of the landscapes of Norrbotten, and raises questions about how this place has been defined and imagined in the past and by whom.

In the beginning of September 2022, the new city centre of Kiruna was opened, after the urban transformation of the town that began almost two decades earlier. The iron ore mining nearby had made the original position of the town untenable. In the new city centre library, a selection of works by Helmer Osslund from Kiruna municipality’s art collection will be shown as part of the Luleå Biennial programme, in collaboration with Kiruna municipality.

 

The Kiruna municipal art collection began as the private collection of Hjalmar Lundbohm, who served as managing director for the mining enterprise, LKAB. Lundbohm worked for LKAB 1898–1920, and played a key role in the founding of Kiruna itself. The art collection is testament to his ambition to give the arts a prominent role in the new settlement. He was also a proponent of nationalist ideals of the era, and a supporter of the racial biology movement. His contributions to the latter included formulating a segregationist policy (“same ska vara same”) and supporting Herman Lundborg’s eugenic research expeditions in Norrbotten.

 

Hjalmar Lundbohm had good connections within the contemporary cultural scene, and enabled many artists’ visits to Norrbotten. One of these was Helmer Osslund, who studied the landscapes of Norrbotten by making excursions from his base in the Swedish Tourist Association’s mountain station. During the 1890s, he studied under the French painter Paul Gaugin, and the inspiration is readily apparent in his colourful expressionist paintings. In these vibrant works, we see Norrbotten through the eyes of Osslund. He captures a majestic, uninhabited wilderness – a wasteland.