John Albert Bauer, Sweden’s Gnomes and Troll Artist (1882-1918)

One of the Artwork of John Albert Bauer

In today’s culture, gnomes and trolls have become very popular. Many people do not know who the original artist started this trend.

John Albert Bauer is the Swedish artist and illustrator most widely known for his gnomes and trolls. Because of his detail in studying the Sami people in Northern Sweden, he used many of these same artifacts in his illustrations. He is most well known for his illustrations in the anthology called Among Gnomes and Trolls.

John Albert Bauer – The Creator of the Gnomes and Trolls

John Albert Bauer was a Swedish painter and illustrator. His work was mainly in landscape and mythology, but he also painted some portraits.

He is best known for his illustrations in the early additions of the Bland Tomtor och Troll, which translates into English Gnomes and Trolls.

John Albert Bauer was born and raised in Jonkoping, Sweden. His father was from Bavaria, and his mother was Swedish. His father came to Sweden penniless but was eventually very successful in the charcuterie or meat products business. His father was able to help support Bauer so he could study art.

At 16, Bauer moved from Jonkoping to Stockholm, Sweden, to study at Sweden’s Royal Academy of Arts. He was one of 40 applicants accepted at the Royal Academy of Art. When he arrived at the academy, they told him he was too young to be accepted into the academy that year, so Bauer had to study at another academy and wait until he was older.

For the next two years, Bauer was torn between hope and complete despair – something that would be reflected in his artwork.

When he reached the appropriate age, he was one of three students officially accepted into the Royal Academy of Art two years later. While he was at the academy, he met his future wife and fellow artist Ester Ellqvist.

Even though Ester attended the Royal Academy of Art, she did not participate in class with John. At that time, the program for women at the academy was very different from the men. It was thought that women would get married and raise a family, so they did not need the same skill or training as men.

Ester did become an essential model for John and is featured in some of his works as the Fairy Princess (1904), Freja (1905), and Ester in the Cottage (1907).

John Albert Bauer In Lapland (Sami)

When John Albert Bauer was studying art, the land of the midnight sun, also known as Lapland or Sami, was looked upon as a new frontier for economic and business development. Investors hired Illustrators to show what Lapland or Sami was like.

Bauer received a commission to go to Lapland or Sami and stay there a month. He encountered the Sami people and their culture; the experience of living in Sami became essential to him and his later work.

Bauer took many photos in Sami and detailed notes and drawings of the tools, costumes, and objects he saw. He was enthralled by the Goahti or a traditional Sami hut. The Sami Goiahi hut has three kinds of coverage: fabric, peat moss, and timber.

The artifacts he found in Lapland became essential for his version of the trolls he would illustrate. Objects such as bent knives, shoes, spears, pots, and belts became vital elements in his trolls.

One of the fantastic things about Bauer was his ability to understand etymology to study and understand the Sami culture. His ability to understand the Sami culture helped him in his illustrations.

The trolls in the forest became alive to Bauer. Some of his artist friends said he could see the creatures he was painting as he walked into the woods. Bauer saw his trolls as living and breathing entities.

Among Gnomes and Trolls – Bauer’s illustrations

Among Gnomes and Trolls (in Swedish known as Bland Tomtar Och Troll) is a popular Swedish folklore anthology published since 1907. There is no single author for the anthology; many of Sweden’s most popular authors have contributed to the work.

Bauer was the sole illustrator for the first four volumes of the anthology (Volumes 1 to 4). He did not illustrate Volume 5 as Norwegian Illustrator Louis Moe illustrated that volume.

Bauer continued to illustrate from 1912 to 1915 for Volumes 6 to 9. Bauer illustrated these books for seven years total. One of his most famous works is Annu Sitter Tuvstarr Kevlar ser her i vattnet, which means Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water.

His teachers at the Royal Academy could see Bauer’s talent and laborious attention to detail. One of his teachers Gustaf Cederstrom praised Bauer when he said:

“His art is what I would call great art, in his almost miniaturized works he gives an impression of something much more powerful than many monumental artists can accomplice on acres of canvas. It is not size that matters but content.”

Gustaf Cederstrom

John Bauer’s Art Technique

Bauer had a very time-consuming art technique. He would start with a small sketch no bigger than a postage stamp with only the basic shapes. Then he would make a 2nd sketch with more detail on it.

He would continue to make more extensive sketches, adding more detail until he arrived at the illustration’s final size, which was about 7.9 inches by 9.8 inches (20 centimeters by 25 centimeters).

He would doodle on any paper he had on hand, from stationary to the back of an envelope. His art technique was laborious and time-consuming, with all the sketches and illustrations.

Bauer would usually illustrate two sketch motifs for each sketch – one in a summer scene and one in a winter scene. He worked in various materials, from charcoal, pencil, watercolor, and oil.

Bauer is most widely known for his watercolors. But he is also known to mix various mediums, helping him speed up the time required to meet a deadline.

John Bauer’s Tragic Death On Lake Vattern

John Alber Bauer, his wife Ester, and their three-year-old son Bengt lived and studied in Italy for about a year.

On their way back to Stockholm, there had been a well-published train accident, so Bauer decided for a part of the journey it would be safer to travel by boat across Lake Vattern instead of the train. They decide to return to Stockholm by the steamer Per Brahe.

On December 19, 1918, when the steamer left Granna, it was loaded with many iron stoves, plowshares, sewing machines, and barrels. All the cargo could not fit into the hold, so they put a large amount of it unsecured on the deck.

By the time they hit the middle of the lake, the weather had turned, and a storm was raging. The high winds caused the cargo to fall overboard. Eventually, the ship capsized and went down just 500 meters (1,600 feet) from their next port.

Twenty-four people died, including the entire Bauer family; many, like the Brauers, died as they were trapped in their cabins and could not get out to safety.

The untimely death of John Bauer and his wife and family was a tragedy. We lost a great artist that would have gone on to help create more fantastic artwork, especially the art of the forests, gnomes, and trolls.

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Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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Still, Tuvstarr sits and gazes down into the water