Axel Fridell (1894-1935) Mannen i kappan (The man in the Coat, etching 187 x 142

The Beginning

Even though FfGK, the Swedish Fine Art Print Society, has been active since 1887, the society has remained quite anonymous on the Swedish art scene. From the start FfGK has been devoted to supporting the art of printmaking and the artists who choose to work with prints. Most importantly during recent decades, it has allowed younger artists a chance to receive their first official commission, as well as a valuable stipend when their prints are included in one of FfGK’s annual portfolios.

The annual report from 1887 begins as follows:
“On the invitation of the gentlemen Curator G. Upmark, Curator A. T. Gellerstedt, Dr. M. Sondén, M.D., Artist R. Haglund, Engineer G. Lamm and Researcher E. Folcker, a meeting was held on Wednesday May 4, 1887 at Nationalmuseum with a number of people to discuss the founding of a Society which would have the aim of disseminating knowledge about and promoting the development of the art of printmaking and becoming a link between people interested in this art form. In recognition of the advantage of, and the necessity for such an organization, the persons present founded: Föreningen för Grafisk Konst, The Swedish Fine Art Print Society.”

During this initial meeting it was decided that the Society would publish a portfolio containing at least five prints, and on very rare occasions, an extra large format print. From the start, Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson and Axel Herman Hägg were among the first artists to contribute prints to FfGK’s portfolios. During FfGK’s first 50 years one can find artist names such as Yngve Berg, Ferdinand Boberg, Stig Borglind, Bertil Bull Hedlund, Albert Engström, Prince Eugen, Axel Fridell, Isaak Grünewald, Olle Hjortzberg, Emil Johanson-Thor, Tekla Nordström, Hans Norsbo, Harald Sallberg, Uno Stallarholm and Axel Tallberg. Add to this the names of all of the artists over the following 75 years up until 2011 – the year of FfGK’s 125th anniversary – then there are more than 350 more artists’ names which can be added to the list.

FfGK came into being when fine art printmaking in Sweden was in its infancy. Of course printmaking had existed earlier in Sweden: copper engravings and etchings were created already during the 1700s, and lithography appeared in the early 1800s. However here in Sweden these techniques were primarily used for reproductions, illustrations and charts for more utilitarian and educational purposes. This was often the case in other countries as well. The art of printmaking became an independent, vital and active art form parallel with the rise of Impressionism. Sweden experienced a significant influence from England which was relayed mainly by the Swedish artist Axel Herman Hägg who had lived in England since the mid-1850s. After Hägg learned the art of etching from English artists and printers he then shared his knowledge with artists such as Anders Zorn and Axel Tallberg when they visited London, and soon rings spread across the waters.

FfGK in the Newspapers for the first time – 1889

An article by the journalist and writer Claës Lundin (1825-1908) was included in his book Nya Stockholm (New Stockholm), 1890. In this book Claës Lundin collected an impressive number of commentaries and articles about different places and events in Stockholm during the late 1880s which had been published in the newspapers Nya Dagligt Allehanda and Stockholms Dagblad, among others. He wrote vivid depictions of a variety of milieus including the Swedish Publicists’ Association Publicistklubben, the police department Poliskammaren, the benevolent society Arbetarförening, Among Trolleys and Steamers, the Fire Department, Among Sportsmen, Barracks and the Royal Guard, Among the Sick and the Poor, The Church and the Chapels, Among Scientists, Literary Circles, City Councils, Public Baths and Gymnasiums, Stockholm Palace, On Both sides of the Theater Curtain, to name just a few of the lively portrayals of places in Stockholm. In one chapter, titled “In Museums and Among Artists” Lundin described, among other things, several visits to Hotel Continental in 1889, the first being an animated meeting of the Artists’ Club, followed by another meeting which also focused on art.

(Claës Lundin’s commentary on an FfGK meeting in 1889: from the newspaper Nya Stockholm, 1890)

Another evening, though much less often, has another society convening at Hotel Continental; they are fewer in number but just as interested in art. Some of the banquet halls are in use. In one room there are old engravings and lithographs on the walls, in another there are new etchings, in a third there are magnificent collotypes on the tables. FfGK, the Swedish Fine Art Print Society is conducting a meeting with lectures, exhibitions, an evening dinner as well as social interaction until the late night hours. For example, there is Captain W: Silfversparre, proprietor of the photochemigraphy department of the printing firm Centraltryckeriets fotokemigrafiska anstalt, who is delivering a lecture on the newest photomechanical reproduction techniques and showing many prints from both Berlin and Vienna, as well as some from the General Staff’s Lithographic Establishment, along with some of his own prints. Perhaps he also shows glass slides and plates which have been used to make reproductions of old engravings and drawings. These are triumphs of the modern age in this field. The Royal Curator Börtzell, Director of the recently mentioned General Staff Establishment, provides interesting information on the same topic. Then perhaps the Director General of Nationalmuseum, Dr. Upmark, would speak about older and newer reproductions of drawings by presenting the magnificent works that are on display. Among them is a collection of photographs showing the drawings in Nationalmuseum’s collection. Possibly this would be followed by another lecture, for example by the researcher Chr. Eichhorn, the indefatigable art lover, who has cultivated a deep knowledge of engraving and lithography in olden times. One time he might talk about Swedish lithography, another time he might focus on the engraved portraits of Queen Kristina, always with illustrations and always very interesting.
The Swedish Fine Art Print Society, which has as its objective to promote knowledge about and the development of printmaking as a fine art, and to function as a link between these art forms and the public interested in fine art prints, was founded in 1887 by the initiators and curators G. Upmark and A. T. Gellerstedt, together with Dr. M. Sondén (a major collector of engravings), the draughtsman and etcher R. Haglund, the art lover and engineer G. Lamm, and the researcher E. Folcker. The proposal was met with immediate approval by a large number of artists. During 1888 the number of members increased to over 300, each of whom pays 10 crowns as the annual fee and thereby receives the Society’s annual folio of etchings. In 1889 the Society’s board was comprised of the Curator G. Upmark, Dr. M. Sondén, the Royal Curator Börtzell, the researcher Chr. Eichhorn and the engineer G. Lamm. The Secretary was the researcher E. Folcker.”

FfGK and The British Museum in London

The reason why The British Museum was named as an Honorary Member of FfGK, the Swedish Fine Art Print Society, is because the Prints and Drawings Department of The British Museum contains the largest collection of Swedish and Nordic prints outside of Sweden. During the years 1912-1932 the Keeper of the Collection was Campbell Dodgson, an old friend of Sweden who became a member of FfGK early on, and he used his own money to purchase the portfolios which FfGK had published prior to his becoming a member. During the 1920s and 1930s Campbell Dodgson was also able to purchase many prints made by Axel Fridell directly from the artist during his working sessions in London. Campbell Dodgson was awarded the British title CBE, Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He bequeathed his print collection to his former workplace when he died in 1948. The Department of Prints and Drawings continued to purchase Swedish prints on a modest scale in the spirit of Campbell Dodgson, and The British Museum has organized a number of attractive exhibitions of Scandinavian, and primarily Swedish prints over recent decades. As an Honorary Member The British Museum now receives FfGK’s annual portfolio so that every year prints by some four to five Swedish artists become a part of the museum’s collection.

Covert Activities

Axel Sjöberg (1866-1950) From the Etching School, soft ground etching, 239 x 163 mm.

Already during its first year of operation FfGK was working behind the scenes. Thus FfGK initially provided economic support to the artist and printmaking teacher Axel Tallberg when he established the “Tallberg Course” in 1895. Among the students were people like Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson and Prince Eugen. When the same institution finally received economic support from the Swedish State in 1908 – as well as partial funding from FfGK once again – it then became the Etching School of The Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. During the 1910s FfGK began purchasing prints at different exhibitions in order to donate them to different museums and institutions, both in Sweden and abroad. After the artist-run group called the Swedish Printmakers’ Association (Grafiska Sällskapet) was founded in 1910, the two organizations joined together to organize several notable exhibitions in order to stimulate interest in printmaking as a fine art. When a major Swedish-British exhibition was presented at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in 1927, it was the above mentioned Campbell Dodgson who was the driving force on the British end, and he was named Honorary Member in the Swedish Printmakers’ Association in thanks for his efforts. This same honor was bestowed upon the other patron of the exhibition, Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf, later named King Gustaf VI Adolf. However he had already become an Honorary FfGK Member in 1914.

During more contemporary times FfGK’s “covert” activities have included providing project grants for the publication of books and dissertations focused on prints and printmaking artists, for printmaking seminars and exhibitions, and sometimes even for funds to purchase technical equipment (including a lithography press for the College of Printmaking Arts in Stockholm and a new intaglio press for Grafikens Hus in Mariefred.) Some of the book projects which have received funding are Karl Haskel’s books on Axel Fridell (1987 and 1989), Kristina Mezei’s books about Grafikskolan Forum (1998) and the artist Janne Dahl (2004), Thomas Millroth’s book on the artist Karin Persson (1999), Göran Martling’s book on Stig Åsberg (2003) as well as Margareta Wallin Wictorin’s book about FOT, the Society for Original Woodcuts / Föreningen Original Träsnitt (2004).
FfGK became a shareholder in Grafikens Hus in Mariefred when it was created in 1996, and it organized its Members’ Days there with a day full of activities. In recent years the board has informed FfGK members about the Society’s activities in the letters from the Chairman which are included in the annual portfolio every fall and in the spring letter which is sent prior to the annual meeting. When FfGK turned 100 years old in 1987, National Museum gave FfGK a birthday present – a major exhibition of Axel Fridell’s prints. Fridell is actually the artist who has contributed the largest number of prints in FfGK’s portfolios, 26 to be exact! The Society’s present to itself for our 125th jubilee in 2011 was to realize and launch FfGK’s own long planned and eagerly awaited webpage during the fall of 2011, and to elect the first woman chairman in FfGK’s 125 year long history.

FfGK’s Print Portfolios

The membership numbers in FfGK have varied over the years, from around 200 to 400 members. It should be noted however that from the beginning up until the mid 1920s, FfGK’s print portfolio editions did not correspond to the number of its members. The annual reports from those times reveal that there almost always were unsigned portfolios which were sold by FfGK’s keeper of the collections.

The print portfolios were originally published in two editions: a smaller one, called the signed edition, and a larger unsigned edition. The prints in the unsigned edition were not signed by the artists, instead they were marked with FfGK’s name, the name of the artist, the title and the year, which were usually printed in relief in the margin of the image, or engraved on the plate. In the beginning the unsigned edition was 275 prints, which quickly increased, so that by 1913 it reached a record of 500 prints. After that the numbers gradually decreased until the size of the signed edition and the unsigned edition were the same – from 1933-1935 each edition contained 125 prints. Then the unsigned edition remained constant with 130 prints up until 1955. The signed edition originally contained only 25 prints, and then it gradually increased. By the turn of the 20th century it had grown to 40 prints so that by the 1910s the signed edition was 120 prints, and by the 1920s it reached about 210 prints. Then it began to decrease to 125 prints in 1933, and afterwards increased again and leveled out at 190 prints during the 1950s. Between 1917-1955 the signed edition portfolio always contained one print more than the unsigned edition.

In 1956 the system of two different editions of FfGK portfolios was discontinued. Since then the edition size has remained constant at 320 prints, and all of the prints are signed and numbered by hand by the artists. On a very few rare occasions there have been unsigned prints included in the portfolios after 1955.
Starting in 1999 there have been some participating artists who have wanted to print smaller editions than 320 prints. It has also happened that certain drypoint plates, even when steel-faced once or twice, could not produce such a large edition without wearing out. In these cases the artist has been allowed to make two or more different smaller editions which together equal 320 prints. The preconditions for this are that the different prints should work together. They can be variations on a particular theme, or of different colors, etc. The artists who have created several editions up until 2010 are P.G. Thelander, Rachelle Puryear, Lena Cronqvist, Torsten Renqvist, Mikael Kihlman, Eigil Thorell, Jukka Vänttinen, Nils G. Stenqvist and Andreas Eriksson.

The total male dominance of the board during the 88(!) first years probably influenced the gender situation in terms of the participating artists. For example, the print portfolios from 1887-1900 contained prints by 79 artists, yet only 4 of them were women. It is also worth noting that the remaining 75 male artists’ names belonged to only 25 individuals! The explanation is that Axel Tallberg was represented 8 times during that time period, Ferdinand Boberg was represented 7 times, Albert Gellerstedt 6 times, Carl Larsson 5 times, David Ljungdahl 5 times, Axel Herman Hägg 5 times, Anders Zorn 4 times, Carl Eneqvist 3 times, etc. Each of the aforementioned women’s names were only represented once! However, in a manner of speaking, order has now been restored: the 2010 portfolio contained prints by 3 women artists and two men, and from 2006-2008 when the portfolios contained 6 prints there was a ratio of 3-3.

The cover of the FfGK’s print portfolios from 1887-1922 were designed by the artist Ferdinand Boberg. The artist and designer Acke Kumlien was responsible for the portfolios used from 1923-1999. In 2000, when the graphic designer Hans Cogne took on the task of designing the portfolio cover as well as a new typographic profile for FfGK, he also re-designed the revived FfGK pamphlet called “Meddelanden från Föreningen för Grafisk Konst” (News from FfGK).