Birgit Broms was an artist who renewed visual art through her exact observations and the sensitive seeking of her painting. Right from the start, she was successful with her art and became a very respected artist. She was one of the foremost painters in the second half of the 1900s.
Birgit Broms was born in Linköping in 1924, the daughter of Uno Broms, an insurance manager and his wife Margareta, née Malmborg. In her youth, just after the first world war, she spent time in Paris. There she had the opportunity of drawing from life in the evenings at the Académie Julian. When the course was over, the pupils’ drawings were examined and she was selected to receive the first prize, being thus the best artist in the course. This gave her the desire to continue her artistic education. She started on the illustration course at Anders Beckman’s school (now Beckmans designhögskola) in Stockholm, but the only subject she liked at the school was drawing from life. The teacher encouraged her instead to apply to a school of painting. She was accepted at Konstakademien in Stockholm on her first attempt and started there in 1947.
During her time at Konstakademien, Birgit Broms was given the opportunity after only one year of studying at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia in 1948–1949. The year was to have decisive significance for her painting in the future. She studied old Italian art very closely, especially that from the early renaissance. When she had completed her studies at Konstakademien in Stockholm in 1951, she returned to Italy to study, this time at the Accademia di Belle Arte di Ravenna to learn to work in mosaic. This led to Birgit Broms being given a public assignment, a mosaic in Råcksta in 1952. She also had the opportunity later of painting frescos which she had also learnt in Italy: a decoration in al secco at the Rosenlund Hospital in Stockholm in 1980, one in stucco lustro at the military base K1 at Rindö in 1984 and one at the SE Bank in Rissne in 1992.
The experiences she had at the beginning of her art studies led to Birgit Broms becoming independent in her painting in relation to teachers as well as fellow students. It is perhaps therefore that her painting is nothing like her fellow painters’ work, which has been more influenced by contemporary French art. She found her own way of painting early on, a style inspired by early renaissance painting and frescos, and also by contemporary Italian art that she had seen in Italy.
When Birgit Broms made her debut as an artist in 1957, and knew which path her art would take, she married the artist Ragnar Sandberg, who had been a teacher at Konstakademien (though not her teacher). It could have been problematic to marry such an experienced artist, but it seems as though life with him rather increased the inspiration in her painting instead. They were both artists seeking their paths, but they worked on different aspects of art and appear to have found each other’s thoughts on art very fruitful.
Birgit Broms discovered her special motifs early on, and she held herself to them through the years, and developed artistically all the time. They might be ice-skaters, portraits or places with houses. Her paintings looked more and more abstract but she never abandoned the point of departure for the motif. Human figures are most often found in her painting. She painted a poetic vision of form and colour.
In poetic paintings, she depicted or did portraits of house façades at various places in Stockholm, like those around Birger Jarls Square on Riddarholmen, some at Blasieholmstorg and Kronobageriet. On one occasion in the 1960s, she had seen the yellow façades at Birger Jarls Square that she wanted to paint. In picture after picture from the 1960s until the 1990s, she observed the forms, simplified them and organised them into an enthralling composition. When Birgit Broms’ daughter Helen started learning to ice skate, the movements of ice-skaters began to capture her eye. After this first viewing of ice-skaters in the 1960s, she returned to this motif throughout her life. Her exploration was about how the movement itself could be created in the picture through composition and form. She painted many variations on this motif with two, three or four skaters rhythmically intertwined in the same picture in front of and behind each other, sometimes in bright red forms. Their arms are stretched out and their hair is flapping with their speed. Later she also used a collage of cut-out pieces of newspaper with both bright red colour and black-and-white text, to achieve the forms that brought their movements to life in a picture. In these motifs she worked in a form that became ever freer.
During her active life, Birgit Broms was to create many deep portraits that awoke much attention. At the beginning of her career, she painted self-portraits. During the 1960s, she painted several portraits of their daughter Helen, like for example Helen med björn in 1965.
In the 1970s, Birgit Broms made her first attempts to portray some people whose faces interested her. Birgit Broms received among other things a commission from the State portrait collection to paint a portrait of Ingmar Bergman, and after having first said no, she accepted. Other people whom she has portrayed are the actress Karin Kavli with a large blue hat emphasising her face, Benny Andersson, the author Inger Alfvén and the actor Allan Edwall.
During her last years, in 2004–2008, Birgit Broms painted several gripping self-portraits. Ill and ever weaker physically, she saw herself sitting in an almost empty room in an armchair with her sketchbook on her knee. Her head is scaled down against her baggy striped jersey, long trousers and large shoes. It is as though her own person is slowly disappearing under the highlighted garments and the armchair firmly enfolding her. However, in the various portrait versions the powerful movement and experience of form remain still. The picture expresses through its concentrated form feelings of loneliness, vulnerability and disappearing that are very strong. During these last years, Birgit Broms also painted some still life pictures: a gently pleated glass bowl in different versions along with one or two apples and sometimes also a knife or a key. She used whatever she had close at hand. She tested seeing the bowl in different ways and in different colours and shapes. The formation is full of emotion and in some of the pictures, it seems as though she had painted an hourglass in which the sand is about to run out completely.
These last works were shown for the first time at the Nordic Watercolour Museum in Skärhamn in a retrospective exhibition in 2016–2017, the first after her death. Birgit Broms’ debut exhibition was a separate exhibition at Galerie Blanche in Stockholm in 1957, several years after she had completed her education. After that, she exhibited regularly at various galleries through the years. She also showed her painting at more comprehensive exhibitions, among other places at the Thielska Gallery in Stockholm in 1987, the Gothenburg Museum of Art in 1990, Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde in 1996 and at Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2006.
Birgit Broms was elected as a member of Konstakademien in 1982 and received the Prins Eugen Medal in 1985 as well as Egron Lundgren’s Medal in 2006. She died in 2008, and her grave is Norra begravningsplatsen (the Northern Cemetery) in Solna.