Please pardon our dust. Our team is hard at work standardizing and improving our database content. If you need assistance, please contact us.
"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."
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 lifes, 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 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).
Photograph of Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt, c. 1900. Courtesy of the papers of Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Education and Training
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1899
Académie Julian, Paris, France, 1900
Oxford Extension College, Reading, England, 1900
Teachers and Influences
Nordfeldt studied with Henri Laurens in Paris, assisted Albert Herter on a mural for the McCormick International Harvester Company, and studied Japanese woodblock printing with F. Morley Fletcher in England. Cézanne influenced Nordfeldt's early work while James Whistler along with the Fauvists, like Matisse, influenced his later work. Nordfeldt also briefly worked with Marsden Hartley in Santa Fe, circa 1920.
Connection to Bucks County
B.J.O. Nordfeldt lived in Lambertville, New Jersey from 1937 until his death in 1955. He moved to Lambertville from Santa Fe, New Mexico, his home from 1918-1937, in order to be close to New York City galleries while still maintaining his privacy.
Colleagues and Affiliations
B.J.O Nordfeldt was married to fellow Bucks County painter Emily Abbott Nordfeldt. The two met while he was teaching painting at the Minneapolis School of Art and she was enrolled as a student. They corresponded for years before marrying in 1944. Nordfeldt (also known as "Nord" by friends) counted Charles Frederick Ramsey, Sr., Charles Evans and Harry Rosin among his colleagues and friends.
B.J.O Nordfelt, Me Portrait Painting, 1981. From Shared Nonsense from the Letters of B.J.O. Nordfeldt, by Emily Abbott Nordfeldt, Lambertville.
Major Solo Exhibitions
Milwaukee Art Society, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1912
National Arts Club, New York, New York, 1917
Daniel Gallery, New York, New York, 1917
Art Club of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1919, 1921
Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C., 1920
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, 1929
B.J.O. Nordfeldt: 1878-1955, Gerald P. Peters Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1981
B.J.O. Nordfeldt: The Lambertville Years, New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey, 1981-1982
Major Group Exhibitions
Paris Exposition, Paris, France, 1900
Milan, Italy, 1906
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915
Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1926
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, 1926
Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1931-50
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, 1936
Lilienfeld Galleries, New York, New York, 1937
The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, 1945
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, 1950
Albright Gallery, Buffalo, New York, New York, 1951
Passedoit Gallery, New York, New York, from 1937 (annually)
Objects of Desire: Treasures from Private Collections, Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 2005 - 2006
Facing Out, Facing In: Figurative Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2011
The Brush is Mightier than the Sword: Twentieth-Century Works from the Michener Art Museum Collection, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2013
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland
Bibliothèque des Arts et Archeologie, Paris, France
British Museum, London, England
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado
Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, Michigan
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden,
National Museum, Christiania, Norway
New York Public Library, New York, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
Minneapolis Institute of Art
Museum of Fine Art, Sidney, Australia
Museum of New Mexico, New Mexico
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
Toledo Art Museum, Toledo, Ohio
Toronto Art Museum, Toronto, Canada
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Wichita Art Museum, Kansas
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Utah State College, 1931
Minneapolis School of Art, 1933
Wichita Art Association, 1934-37
University of Texas, guest professor, 1941-43
Medal, Milan, Italy, 1906
Silver Medal, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, 1915
Bronze Medal, Philadelphia Sesquicentennial Exposition, 1926
Logan Medal, Art Institute of Chicago, 1926
1st Prize, Brooklyn Society of Etchers, 1927
1st Prize, Chicago Society of Etchers, 1928
Yetter Prize for Painting, Denver Art Museum, 1936
Purchase Prize for Painting, Worcester Art Museum, 1947
Bronze Medal, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 21st Biennial, 1949
Affiliations and Memberships
Provincetown Players, Provincetown, Massachusetts,
1914-1917(summers), building a theater and creating set designs
Chicago Society of Ethchers
New Mexico Society of Painters
Society of American Ethchers
Taos Society of Painters
"[Nordfeldt] loved nature and wanted to portray it as he felt and saw it--not realistically, but with deep feeling and emotion."
-Emily Abbott Nordfeldt
Nordfeldt strove to capture his passionate response to nature, especially the sea, which he painted in an emotionally charged semi-abstract style. "The sea was his heritage," art critic Peggy Lewis observed, referring to Nordfeldt's youth in Sweden. His early perceptions of the sea dominated his imagination late in life, when his paintings of the California coast echoed his early Swedish seascapes. Nordfeldt's brooding temperament colored his perceptions--and paintings--of the ocean.
Nordfeldt's seascapes convey both moody introspection and awe at nature's wondrous vitality. The paintings are charged with rhythmic motion--the undulations of a flock of birds, the wriggling of a school of fish, or the incessant crash of waves upon the rocks. The paintings' spare, semi-abstract lines and flowing brushstrokes heighten this sense of arrested movement. The harmonious structure of Nordfeldt's compositions further suggests the sublime unity and power of nature. At home amidst the woodlands of Lambertville, Nordfeldt celebrated a fiercer climate, that of the Swedish sea.
B.J.O Nordfelt, Barrier Rocks, 1953. Oil. 30 x 40 inches. Image courtesy of the James A. Michener Art Museum archives.