Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom was a multi-faceted artist, mainly working as a sculptor in the first half of the twentieth century.
Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom was the youngest of master carpenter Lars August Nordin’s five children. Three of the children subsequently became artists. One of Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom’s brothers became an architect, while her six-year-older sister Alice Nordin became a sculptor and her role model. Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom had to move in with her sister Alice as a result of their mother’s ill health. Although she had some doubts about her choice of career, she followed in her sister’s footsteps as regards her education: first she attended the technical school for female apprentices from 1893 to 1897 and then Konstakademien (the Royal Academy of Fine Arts) from 1898 to 1903. She completed her academic studies in sculpting with John Börjeson and then travelled to Paris, where she spent time at both Académie Julian and Académie Colarossi in the years 1903-1906.
From an artistic perspective her time in Paris was her richest perioud. Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom exhibited at the Champ de Mars salon and was shown alongside the French sculptors Dejean, Despiau and Defresne in the Certais group. Her artistic efforts were well-received in Sweden. She also had benefactors in Sweden, namely the head of Leja, Josef Sachs, and the manufacturer Hjalmar Wicander, who both sent her quarterly financial donations. In return she created all sorts of lighting implements and decorative items for their homes. She would send the models from Paris to Stockholm, where C.G. Hallberg’s goldsmith’s company – where she had previously worked while she was at Konstakademien – was one of several factories which would manufacture the goods. Further, Nordiska Kompaniet commissioned cigarette lighters and lamps from her. Her ceiling armatures called Ringkrona and Älvalek were cast by Armand Dueval in Paris between 1903 and 1906 and then shipped to Stockholm. In 1904 Ragnar Östberg commissioned chandeliers from her for the telecommunications centre in Moscow. From 1907 to 1914 she sold prototypes to Rörstrand (including the statuette called Blåsippan), created the crystal vase Såpbubblor, provided illustrations for theatrical production reviews for Svenska Dagbladet and designed the covers of Daniel Fallström’s novels. She also wrote celebratory speeches, created soap and beer labels, ex-libris designs, caricatures and jewels.
Throughout her period in Paris she was engaged to the emerging architect Ivar Tengbom. They married in Paris in 1905. Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom believed in a communal work environment in a shared studio. The previous year she had helped her husband beautify, that is paint, his architectural drawings for a competition to design Stockholm’s city hall. They both received high commendations in a competition for the Sten Sture monument in Uppsala in 1902. Despite this, they left their studio in Paris and returned to Sweden. Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom’s life came to be preoccupied with caring for her four children and with hostess duties, which resulted from her husband’s professional success. Their social network came to include the social elite: royalty and nobility, as well as artists. She continued with what she herself called her “hobby”. She designed a seal for Konstföreningen in 1910, made portrait medallions, created a memorial plaque for the opening of Stockholm stadium in 1912, and also created medallions for Livförsäkring AB Nordstjernan in 1921 and for the opening of the Årsta bridge in 1929. In 1911 she was invited to create the porch for the Sach Children’s hospital, which had been designed by Ivar Tengbom. In 1915 she created some insect decorations for the façade of the Enskilda Banken building, another significant work by her husband.
Over time Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom lost her husband’s support. When she discovered a love letter from another woman tucked into his suit pocket she nevertheless promised she would not create a scandal and would wait four years until after he had completed his most important commission, the Concert Hall in Stockholm, to seek a divorce from him. She promised that she would pretend she “knew nothing” in exchange for being allowed to create a massive relief in the Concert Hall foyer, known as Barnorkestern. This piece comprises thirteen chubby, naked children playing various instruments. The relief was completed in 1927 and represented her largest piece of work. Once she had officially divorced her husband she held a retrospective exhibition of her sculptural work at the Galleri Modern in 1931, along with Märta Måås-Fjetterström. She displayed thirty pieces, most of which were marked as “incomplete” in the catalogue. Vila and Dans were two of the few early pieces she exhibited, along with Modell Rosalie Pechée, which were the only ones to be sold. About half of the exhibition contained later portraits, and she – “professor Tengbom” – received unreserved acclaim for them. Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom was, furthermore, a talented etcher and painter of aquarelles.
Hjördis Nordin-Tengbom died in 1969 and is buried at the Norra cemetery in Solna.