Playwright, painter, alchemist: galleries celebrate Strindberg

He is world famous as a dark and difficult playwright. But the Swedish writer August Strindberg was also a revolutionary artist and photographer with a keen interest in natural science.

Next year, his combined talents will be investigated in Britain for the first time when Tate Modern mounts a major exhibition of his art while the National Theatre presents his ground-breaking stage work A Dream Play. For those unable to visit London, the BBC will be presenting two of his lesser-known works on Radio 3, The Pelican and Playing With Fire.

Announcing the collaboration between the Tate and the National Theatre yesterday, Nicholas Hytner, director of the National, said the exhibition and the plays would provide a stimulating experience for theatre-goer and art lover alike.

Strindberg, who was born in 1849 and died in 1912, was known for gripping psychological dramas such as Miss Julie and The Dance of Death, which display a strong streak of misogyny.

His work had a profound influence on 20th-century theatre in the works of writers such as Pinter, Beckett and Osborne. But Vicente Todoli, director of Tate Modern, said Strindberg also took his photography, his painting and his experiments in natural sciences - such as trying to turn sulphur into gold - equally seriously. He began his working career as a newspaper art critic.

"He was considered by his peers as a painter, but more than a painter, he was an artist. He was really advanced, beyond his time. He was heralding things that came later - he was the antecedent of expressionism. I hope the public will come to appreciate his art at the same level as his writing."

It is clear that his artistic eye informed his writing. Katie Mitchell, who is to direct A Dream Play in a new version by Caryl Churchill, said: "It is rare to have a playwright who has a fantastically refined visual sense.

"It means that the play's stage directions are almost as exciting as the text. They have provided us with huge challenges because they are scenes in themselves. That is very stimulating for a tradition of theatre [in Britain] that is very word-based."

However, his writing differs in one important sense from his art - the themes of sexual struggle, the social condition and the construction of a new society that run through his plays and novels are absent from his paintings.

The Tate Modern exhibition, which will run from 17 February to 15 May, will include more than 60 paintings and about 30 photographs. It will also show rarely seen illustrated manuscripts, drawings and sculptures.

A Dream Play, about the daughter of a god sent to live among mortals, will be at the Cottesloe Theatre at the National from 4 to 15 February. Radio 3 will broadcast two Strindberg plays on 20 March and a programme on his work on 24 February.

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