Lena Cronqvist: Harsh Expressionism of the Post War Painter

Lena Cronqvist, Young Draughtsmen award winner, is a significant woman artist who changed the Nordic Art history. Read on to know about her life and art.

Lena Cronqvist

In a great deal of cases, the victories gained at the turn of the 20th century turned out to be Pyrrhic. For women who wanted to make a living in the visual arts, positions within the official art institutions were still important financially – cheap studios at academies and stipends – but as modernism gained ground, the situation became increasingly confusing. Women were viewed in the jargon of art criticism, as well as in the minds of museum directors and collectors, as rebels, seers, analysts of the foundations of the visual arts, and almost scientists; all roles difficult to fill for women. Critical vocabulary drew its most laudatory epithets from warfare, extolling the Avante-grande who bravely stepped into unknown territory. Cubism, Dada, and Surrealism are among the movements that disadvantaged women much more than these wars of words and ideas. Despite being involved in most 20th-century art movements, only the Russian experiments saw women at the forefront. Even though women’s careers in the visual arts were generally accepted, the barriers remained, along with the added burden of breaking free from mainstream naturalism. And it must be noted that women born around 1940-45 in the Nordic countries made themselves heard and seen in the aftermath of the women’s movement, whether or not they were themselves involved. It is worth noting that although the statistics regarding official sales, museum acquisitions, the large number of women who graduate from art schools, the small number of women who graduate from art schools, and the small number who sit on government bodies have not changed much, some female artists have made a significant contribution to Nordic art history. Among them were Marie Louise Ekman, a professor at the Konsthogskolan in Stockholm from 1984 to 1991, and Lena Cronqvist, who was also an accomplished painter and stage designer. Today, we will examine the artistic career of Lena Cronqvist, a woman painter who was not only an inspiration to many people but also a leading figure in the Nordic art world.

Artist Abstract: Lena Cronqvist.

Born in Karlstad in 1938, Lena is a Swedish painter, graphic artist, and sculptor. She studied at the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm from 1958-9, and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, 1959-64. Lena traveled widely and married writer, Goran Tunstrom, the son of the theatre producer Linus Tunstrom. Being a significant person in Nordic art history, she also received the Unga Tecknare (Young Draughtsmen) award and National Museum, Stockholm in 1973.

Lena Cronqvist Photograph
ArtistLena Cronqvist
BirthKarlstad, 1938
Famous PaintingsTell Tale II

Looking At Lena’s Life Through Artworks

Lena Cronqvist created chaos of expressions and impressions in her artworks, which are inspired by earlier art. She used to take inspiration from early-century paintings, though the subject and story were almost similar as if she picked out an idea and transformed it into her daily life artworks. For instance, the painting, Betrothal (1974-75) of Lena takes roots from Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait. Similarly, a series of her compositions of Girls in New York includes squares inspired by Piet Mondrian, as does Red and Green, based on Henri Matisse’s The Dance.

Trolovningen or Betrothal by Lena Cronqvist

Besides these paintings, nature remains the sole source of the opportunity for the artist to get herself outside. Her composition, Compost Heap, represents those aspects of nature that are wild, sensual, and enticing and are bound to only artists and possibly wild animals. She learned the theory of landscaping art from the famous Swedish painter, Inge Schioler.

Traveling extensively around the world, and living for several months in Mexico, Latin America, India, and Egypt, as well as Koster and Oland, and in the 1970s, traveled with her husband and son, almost all of her paintings display the atmosphere where she lived in.

When Lena couldn’t paint, she would sketch in her notebook, now published in Mitt Indiska Ritblock (My Indian Sketchbook; Vasteras, 1978). Ten years later, she developed graphic art based on the ideas in August Strindberg’s drama Ett Drompsel (A dream play). The Parisian publisher and gallery owner Edouard Wiess commissioned Cronsqvist to create a series of 30 lithographs based on Strindberg’s text. In 1989, a catalog was also published to accompany the exhibition of the lithographs at Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde in Stockholm.

Cronqvist uses her relationship with her family as inspiration for her art. Although she primarily paints and draws, she sometimes works as a sculptor as well. She puts all the difficulties and joys of her private life into a universal art form. In Tell Tale II (1991), she depicts an older sister trying to drown a younger one in the blue sea, a terrible, innocent first view of the situation. During the same time that her father lay dying in hospital, her 1980 series of paintings, Night Vigil to the Deathbed, invites us all to share her pain and the necessity of parent and child being linked together and then growing into responsible adults. A willful and bold technique holds together her compositions, which are vibrant with conflicts.

Then, in 1984, Cronqvist saw two performances by the German choreographer Pina Bausch and the group Wuppertal Tanztheater in Stockholm. Having painted herself through childhood and adulthood back and forth, she had transposed time as if she were watching a film. The intense work of Bausch inspired her to take the next step in her life. She painted pictures of a woman searching for answers. The model in Yellow Dress tries to hide in wall mirrors or goes into them; instead, she is shown from three sides. In his paintings, the artist appears to explore the atmosphere and surroundings of a woman’s life.

One of her famous paintings in the series, Girls in New York is Girl With a Skipping Rope, which showcases a memory from her childhood when she was just six or seven. It portrays a girl standing on a left foot on a white square, balancing the other one with a white square of the wall, swinging a skipping rope over her head. It shows the problem of balance in her life, but irrespective of the dilemma, she seems happy that she is standing through it. There is always the presence of contamination in her pictures as in life, which is like unconscious danger.

Flicka med hopprep Lena Cronqvist

Final Words.

Lena Cronquist is one of the gifted artists who through her personal experiences, older art, and nature, formed such inexhaustible and universal validity in her artworks. Painting what she has inside, she forms an inspiration to the younger generations of the Swedish museums.


1. Sune Nordgren, Lena Cronqvist, Arhus: Kalejdoskop, 1990.

2. Lena Cronqvist: Malningar, 1964-94, exh. cat., Galleri Lrs Bohman, Stockholm.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Who is Lena Cronqvist?

Lena Cronqvist is a Swedish Modernist mastering the art of painting, sculpture, and graphic art. Taking inspiration from earlier artworks, life experiences, and nature, Lena Cronqvist is known for depicting expressions that cause chaos.

What type of art does Lena Cronqvist make?

Portraiture and Landscapes are two of the categories in art that Lena Cronqvist paints and is widely popular for.

What are some of the famous Lena Cronqvist paintings?

One of the famous Lena Cronqvist paintings is Girl With a Skipping Rope from the series Girl in New York. It showcases a memory of her childhood when she was six or seven.

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