Michener Art Museum

B.J.O. Nordfeldt

Photograph of Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, c. 1900, courtesy of the papers of Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
BORN: 1878, Tullstrop, Sweden.
DIED: April 21, 1955, Henderson, Texas

I was considering what was the most fundamental thing in painting and I believe that it is abstract form. That is the structure of the idea-bones--not the infernal likeness but just the absolute shapes that would give the emotional part.
--B.J.O. Nordfeldt

Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, better known as B.J.O. Nordfeldt, was a post-Impressionist and American Expressionist artist. Though widely recognized for his paintings, he was also a prolific printmaker and often turned to other media for his work. His subject matter was varied, including still lives, landscapes, portraits, and religious scenes among others.

The artist was born Bror Julius Olsson in Tullstrop, Skåne, Sweden in 1878 but immigrated to Chicago, Illinois with his family in 1891. When he was 21, Nordfeldt enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago but was recruited within a year to work with artist Albert Herter on a mural commissioned by the McCormick Harvester Company. The following year the company sent the young painter to the 1900 Paris Exposition to see the finished mural installed. While in France, he briefly enrolled in the Académie Julien, but left soon after for England where he studied wood-block printing at Oxford. He then left to spend a year in Sweden and finally returned home to Chicago in 1903 where he opened a studio and made many wood-block prints, paintings, and etchings.

When he returned home, Bror adopted his mother’s maiden name, Nordfeldt, and signed all his paintings with his new name, B.J.O. Nordfeldt, before also adopting it as his name outside of painting in 1918. Over the next 10 years Nordfeldt travelled across Europe and lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts and Santa Fe, New Mexico, painting and being commissioned to create portraits for individuals such as novelist Theodore Dreiser and economist Thorstein Veblen. He moved to Santa Fe in 1919 and lived there for 20 years. While there, he gradually became less interested in printmaking and began to change his style and color palette from the mild hues of post-Impressionism to the strong, bright colors of New Mexico in a mix of Realism and Expressionism.

In 1937 Nordfeldt relocated once more from Santa Fe to Lambertville, New Jersey where he lived for the rest of his life. While living in Lambertville, he continued to experiment with color and his expressionist style to positive reviews. Nordfeldt stated that he was interested in conveying the symbolic or emotional core of his subject, what he called its "idea-bones." He showed this emotional core through flattened forms and distorted space, to create very stylized images. His late work mainly consisted of religious scenes painted in this same style in an attempt to display the emotional power Nordfeldt associated with spirituality and faith.

In addition to his legacy as a painter, he is also remembered as the developer of the white-line method of printmaking. Nordfeldt’s method allowed for a more spontaneous use of color in wood-block printing and was used by many printmakers, especially those working in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Nordfeldt died of a heart attack on April 21, 1955 in Henderson, Texas on a return trip from Mexico. He was 77 years old.

Nordfeldt’s work has been exhibited at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections (2005-2006), Facing Out, Facing In: Figurative Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection (2011) and The Brush is Mightier than the Sword: Twentieth-Century Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection (2013).