Ernst Josephson

Ernst Abraham Josephson (1851-1906) was a Swedish painter and poet. He specialized in portraits, genre scenes of folklife and folklore.


He was born to a middle-class family of merchants of Jewish ancestry. His uncle, Ludvig Josephson (1832-1899) was a dramatist and his uncle Jacob Axel Josephson (1818-1880) was a composer. When he was ten, his father Ferdinand Semy Ferdinand Josephson (1814-1861) left home and he was raised by his mother, Gustafva Jacobsson (1819-1881) and three older sisters.
At the age of sixteen, he decided to become an artist and, with his family’s support, enrolled at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts. His primary instructors there were Johan Christoffer Boklund and August Malmström. He was there until 1876, when he received a Royal Medal for painting.

After leaving the Academy, he and his friend and fellow artist Severin Nilsson (1846-1918) visited Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, where they copied the Old Masters. His breakthrough came in Paris, where he was able to study with Jean-Léon Gérôme at the École des Beaux-Arts. He soon began concentrating on portraits, including many of his friends and fellow Swedes in France. For a time, he shared a studio with Hugo Birger (1854–1887). His personal style developed further during a trip to Seville with his friend, Anders Zorn, from 1881 to 1882.

Swedish Artist Ernst Josephson - David and Saul - National Museum
Swedish Artist Ernst Josephson – David and Saul – National Museum


His private life did not go well, however. By his late twenties, he was afflicted with syphilis. His romantic life suffered as a consequence, as he was forced to break off a promising relationship with a young model named Ketty Rindskopf.

In the 1880s, a painting that is now considered one of his masterpieces, Strömkarlen (1882-1884) was rejected by the Nationalmuseum. It was eventually purchased by Prince Eugen (1865-1947), himself a skilled amateur artist and art patron, who hung it at his home, Waldemarsudde, now a museum on Djurgården in Stockholm. In total Ernst Josephson is also represented at the museum with ten other oil paintings and a large number of drawings.

In 1881, his mother died. They had been very close and it affected him deeply. There was one bright spot; in 1883 he obtained the patronage of Pontus Furstenberg (1827-1902), a wealthy merchant and art collector. In 1885, he became a supporter of the “Opponenterna [sv]”, a group that was protesting the outmoded teaching methods at the Swedish Academy. But his interest in the group diminished when he failed to win election to their governing board.


View Ernst Josephson Painting