Harriet Sundström was a graphic artist, a painter, and a sculptor who campaigned during the early twentieth century to get artists – particularly female ones – to organise and cooperate. Her artwork can be found in various Swedish and overseas museums.
Harriet Sundström was born on 23 December 1872. She was the second child born into a well-educated and extremely active family. Her father, Carl Rudolf Sundström, had a Ph.D in zoology and undertook extensive research trips to Europe. He was a school teacher who also worked as a journalist. He served as foreign news editor for the Stockholms Dagblad newspaper for a long time. He was also part of the group which founded Svenska kennelklubben (the Swedish kennel club) in 1889. Harriet Sundström’s mother Lilly Sundström had attended Hammarstedtska pensionen (girls’ finishing school) in Stockholm where emphasis was placed on modern languages. One of her hobbies was hunting. Following the death of her husband in 1889 Lilly Sundström worked as a teacher and a journalist, including for the newly-set up Stockholms-Tidningen newspaper where for a while she was solely responsible for foreign news.
Harriet Sundström began her artistic career when she received preparatory guidance from Gösta Krehl in Stockholm. She then attended the Tekniska school where, in addition to painting, she also did artistic handicrafts. Having been rejected by Konstakademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Art) she then headed off to Münich where her sister Ella was living. Harriet Sundström produced croquis drawings at the Künstlerinnen Vereins school and studied painting under the tutelage of the animal portrait artist and impressionist Heinrich Zügel, and with Franz Roubaud, the Russian folk-life and battle-painter, as well as with the English animal portrait artist Charles Tooby who lived in Dachau. Harriet Sundström herself spent periods living in Dachau and would later make several return visits there.
Harriet Sundström held her first solo exhibition at the Kunstverein in Münich in 1894 and then returned to Stockholm the next year to attend Konstnärsförbundet’s (the artists’ association) first school. Her main teacher there was Anders Zorn. She also accompanied him to Mora where she mainly painted horse- and dog-themed pictures, motifs she continued to paint throughout her active period. Zorn and his student became good friends and Harriet Sundström was a frequent guest in the Zorn family home.
Harriet Sundström did not hold back from questioning authorities and the current situation. She expressed this in her own exlibris in which the German text declares that one should stand up for oneself and behave accordingly. At the Konstnärforbund’s first school she appears to have served as organiser as evidenced by the younger members’ dissatisfaction towards the older members. She was one of the young artists – of which there were 22 – who held an exhibition in 1900 and then in 1902 set up the group known as De Frie. The latter played a certain part in serving as a forum for younger artists’ opposition to tendencies to conform within Konstnärsförbundet.
Harriet Sundström spent the period between the turn of the twentieth century and the First World War alternately in Sweden, Germany, and France. She spent quite a lot of time in Paris, where she sometimes studied at the Académie Colarossi, as well as with the Spaniard Anglada at the Witti school of art and with Antoine Bourdelle. For a while she shared a studio with the Spanish-French artist Marie Blanchard. Harriet Sundström also shared a household with the artist couple Diego Rivera and Angelina Beloff in Toledo. She spent certain periods living with Maria (Maya) von Berlichingen-Jagsthausen in Dachau.
Harriet Sundström spent long periods of time in Münich and Dachau where many artists experimented with producing woodcuts in modernist styles. Around 1904 Harriet Sundström and Carl O Petersen began to make art using woodcuts and the following year they exhibited their efforts in exhibitions held in Sweden. She presented her first woodcut artwork at the De Fries salon in 1905 and thus became one of the pioneers of modernist original woodcuts in Sweden, along with Carl O Petersen, Hanna Borrie and Anna Sahlström.
Harriet Sundström, Arthur Sahlén and other fellow artists started Föreningen Original-Träsnitt (F.O.T; Original woodcuts association) in 1912 which aimed at promoting woodcut artwork. She was involved in this successful project until 1947 when the group was absorbed into Grafiska sällskapet (the graphic arts society). Harriet Sundström was one of the driving forces of this society and worked very intensively. She produced well-thought out plans for the society’s future efforts, mobilising important contacts and cooperating with other artists and artistic organisations. She also organised exhibitions in Sweden and was responsible for opinion-forming articles on xylographic art, some of which were published in Ord & Bild and in Paletten.
Harriet Sundström was what used to be called a ‘painter/engraver’, meaning her artwork involved both painting and graphics. She also produced drawings and sculptures. A retrospective exhibition held at Konstnärhuset in Stockholm in 1951 comprised 92 of her oil paintings from the 1890–1950 period. These were primarily portraits of animals and landscapes. In addition she exhibited drawings as well as 18 sculptures, including many horses, cats, and rabbits. However, it is in the form of a graphic artist that Harriet Sundström was best known. She produced woodcuts in an early modernist style, producing images in relief, frequently using contour lines. She also worked with coloured woodcuts, particularly for stand-alone artworks, but she also worked in black-and-white. The latter largely comprised exlibris and book illustrations.
When Harriet Sundström could freely choose her own motifs, for her stand-alone artworks, she almost always chose to portray animals, horses and dogs in particular. Her aim was not to produce detailed realistic images but rather to create stylised images, albeit representative ones. Her woodcuts were cut into simple, soft shapes, reminiscent of Japanese coloured woodcuts, synthetism, and art-nouveau style shapes. Harriet Sundström also embraced primitive tendencies. Her woodcuts – particularly book illustrations and exlibris – were often inspired by folk art images including silhouette images, painted traditional costumes, popular prints, and broadsides.
Harriet Sundström’s work can be found in the National museum, Moderna museet, Konstakademien, the Zorn collections in Mora, the art museums in Malmö, Norrköping, and Eskilstuna as well as in foreign museums. She held solo exhibitions in Stockholm in 1920, 1951, and 1956 and in Norrköping in 1953. She also participated in a series of the De Fries exhibitions during the 1900s in a variety of places. In addition she organised and participated in Föreningen Original-Träsnitt's retrospective exhibitions at the National museum at the turn of the year 1942/1943. She also appeared in group exhibitions across the globe, including Copenhagen, Reykjavik, Paris, Vienna, Buenos Aires, and several places in the USA.
Harriet Sundström died in 1961. She is buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Solna.