Strindberg exhibition betrays his unbearable darkness of being

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The Independent Online

The biggest exhibition ever mounted of the visual art of August Strindberg, the misogynist Swede best known as a playwright, opens in London tomorrow, offering British audiences their first opportunity to compare his paintings with his stagecraft.

The biggest exhibition ever mounted of the visual art of August Strindberg, the misogynist Swede best known as a playwright, opens in London tomorrow, offering British audiences their first opportunity to compare his paintings with his stagecraft.

Most of the 60 paintings and about 30 photographs produced by the troubled polymath between 1873 and 1905 have never been seen in the UK before. Some have been traced from private collections for the exhibition at Tate Modern, which runs until 15 May.

They reveal a highly individual painter, whose works prefigured more than 20 years of key developments in 20th- century art, such as the surrealists and the abstract expressionists. But experts believe that only in his later, more symbolic plays, such as A Dream Play which opened at the National Theatre last night to coincide with the exhibition, is the connection between the two sides of his artistic output seen.

He produced most of his art at times of great trauma, when he was troubled in his relationships or when his capacity as a writer failed him. Paintings, such as those depicting a lonely lighthouse against a stormy sea, have been interpreted as a metaphor for Strindberg's own isolation after he caused a furore by criticising the royal family and the church in Sweden.

Vicente Todoli, the Tate's director, said the paintings showed the "loneliness of the uncompromising creative spirit".

Helen Sainsbury, the Tate curator, said: "With his plays, he's very much connected with society. But his paintings were a cathartic experience.

"There are some images where you see the amateur, but others where you can't imagine that they weren't done by a trained painter."

Olle Granath, former director of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, said the London show had shed new light on his work. "I have come deeper into his thoughts about what the visual arts meant to him. Some people see him as a hobby painter, but I think it was very important to him. It was where he was himself and explored his own feelings and passions ... he was in a struggle with contemporary society and colleagues."

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