With this portrait of the Janse children, whose family were living in Stockholm at the time, the Swedish painter Oscar Björck provides us with an enchanting interior scene, a masterfully sensitive depiction of four little girls in their family environment: a comfortable nursery, whose carefree disorder the artist reveals to us by adopting a high vantage point. In the warmth of a stove, on a brightly colored carpet on which the youngest sibling is playing, the children are busy with their sewing and reading activities. This group portrait was the result of a commission placed with the artist by Lieutenant-Colonel Albert Fredrik Daniel Janse (1854 – 1937), a Swedish soldier, and his wife Karolina Elisabeth Janse (1856 – 1936). In 1889, the painter immortalized their first four children: Ester, Emma, Dagmar and Märtha.
The painting stands out for its unusual composition, close framing, and the freshness of its subject and colors alike. It exudes an impression of informality, relaxation and naturalness reminiscent of the scenes of sociability painted by the Skagen School’s artists, transposed here to the world of childhood. The work also evokes other portraits of children, such as the Portrait of Émile Gaillard’s Four Children by James Tissot (1868, private collection), whose warm colors are taken up by Björck, who also pays similar attention to the textures and materials of a plush interior. In the Nursery might also be compared with Sargent’s painting The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (1882, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), which was exhibited at the 1883 Salon in Paris, the same year that Oscar Björck stayed in the capital.
When he painted this work, Björck was an established artist. Trained at Stockholm’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, he was granted a scholarship that had taken him to Paris in 1883 and 1884. He went on to complete his artistic training during his travels and stays in Berlin, Munich, Venice and Rome. A close friend of the Danish painter Peder Severin Krøyer, whom he had got to know well in Paris, and of the artists Michael and Anna Ancher, who were also Danish, Björck spent the summers of 1882, 1883 and 1884 in Skagen in the north of Jutland. These friendships led him to adopt the subjects and manner characteristic of the Skagen School, painted in a naturalistic vein and bathed in clear light.
French museums didn’t previously possess any of Oscar Björck’s works. At the Musée d’Orsay, this canvas has joined a collection of some twenty Swedish paintings: landscapes, portraits and genre scenes, including Hugo Salmson’s painting The Dalby Gate, Skane, purchased by the State at the 1884 Salon – depicting four ragged little peasants posing in front of a bleak Scanian landscape – as well the recently acquired Konstvänner (Friends of Art) by the painter Fanny Brate. In the Nursery (The Janse Children) is currently exhibited in Room 10, as part of an installation devoted to depictions of childhood.
*Group of Scandinavian artists living in Skagen (Denmark’s northernmost town) from the 1870s to the turn of the century, and greatly influenced by the light and atmosphere along the coast on the north end of the Jutland peninsula.