Ida Thoresen was a talented sculptor and one of the founders of Föreningen Svenska konstnärinnor (the association of female Swedish artists) in 1910.
Ida Thoresen was born in Gothenburg in 1863. She came from an international background. Her father was the wholesale merchant Carl Christian Thoresen, who had emigrated from Norway, and her mother was the Englishwoman Sophie Chambers. She had close relatives on her paternal side in both Russia and Switzerland. Her mother’s ties to England meant that from her earliest days Ida Thoresen was used to travelling to other places in order to visit family members.
Ida Thoresen’s childhood dream was to be a singer. Following two years of studies in Germany and Italy she was, however, forced to stop singing due to problems with her throat. In 1894 the sculptor Edvard Brambeck was employed in Gothenburg to teach her modelling. She alternated her sculpting studies with visiting friends, going to the opera, trips by carriage, socialising and letter writing – she maintained an almost daily correspondence with the painter Elisabet Barnekow who was nine years her junior. By 1895 they became inseparable. They, along with Ida Thoresen’s mother, lived in Paris from 1895 to 1900 where both girls studied at Académie Julien, amongst other places. As Ida Thoresen wrote to a female friend: “We attended lectures in anatomy twice a week, which we found very interesting but also horrible as the professor naturally had to illustrate his subject.” After a while she and Elisabet Barnekow set up their own studios in order to avoid “attending school with male students and to avoid sketching completely naked models”, as was the norm at the open academies.
Ida Thoresen was wealthy. Her father had died in 1878 and left a sizable inheritance. She spent her summers in Sweden, in rental accommodation in Särö or Marstrand, or visiting the Barnekow property in Scania. In springtime and in autumn Ida Thoresen and Elisabet Barnekow spent some of their time in Switzerland – preferably in Vevey where they would take cycling trips on the alpine roads. They also went to the Riviera to visit Monte Carlo and the tourist attractions of Italy. Whenever they made a longer stop in a given location they would hire a chamber maid. Elisabet Barnekow was a young noblewoman who was not in the most robust health, which required both alpine hotels and Mediterranean heat. Thus they spent their winters in Paris, Montreux, or – from 1900 onwards – Rome. Ida Thoresen considered it to be her “lifelong task … to keep [Elisabet] healthy”.
Against this background of constant travel and frequent socialising, it is surprising that Ida Thoresen had the time to create as many sculptures as she did, to the number of almost 100 a week, of which the majority were life-sized. The first time she exhibited her work in 1897 at la Société des Artistes Français, the salon of the French artists in Paris, she was awarded a medal for her bust of the apostle John, Aposteln Johannes. She exhibited at two more salons, displaying En gammal bondkvinna, which was a marble relief portrait of Elisabet Barnekow, and Soldyrkaren, 1897, which portrayed a young man with his arms outstretched to the sun. Along with Douleur (or Sorg), Soldykaren became her most frequently displayed piece. Livsglädjen, the female equivalent of Soldykaren, is considered to be her most popular work.
In 1899 Ida Thoresen was commissioned by Blanche Dickson, the English builder of Tjolöholm castle, to create a funerary angel statue for her husband’s mausoleum. This work took several years to complete and required Ida Thoresen and Elisabet Barnekow to spend time in Rome. Ängeln, as the piece came to be known, portrays an angle in a seated position, with enormous folded wings. The angle is depicted as a young, slender woman wearing a thin, floor-length gown. She has short hair in a modern hairstyle, and an emotionless, neutral expression on her face. Ängeln was hewn from the most expensive Carrara marble by Italian workmen. Ängeln was almost destroyed when the mausoleum at Tjolöholm collapsed and was eventually torn down in the 1970s. Today Ängeln looks out over the sea from within an enclosed glass cage. The cool, classical impression is also found in other feminine statues sculpted by Ida Thoresen, such as the whole-body statue Nirvana and the bust Sfinxen, both dating from 1920 and sculpted in black granite. These statues can be viewed as bearers of “masculine power” and revealing “the hallmark of true artistry” as a journalist wrote in Aftonbladet in 1928.
Having set up Föreningen Svenska konstnärinnor, Ida Thoresen exhibited her work in all their group displays both in Sweden and Vienna, London, Copenhagen and the USA. At least two of her pieces remained in the USA: Över djupen, which portrays a young man sitting on an eagle, sculpted in bronze in 1916, and Soldykaren, in marble, displayed at the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia. Ida Thoresen was Föreningen Svenska konstnärinnor’s exhibition commissioner for 27 years and served as the association’s vice-chair for 11 years. As the domestic commissions increased in number she and Elisabet Barnekow moved into a permanent residence with two studios at Karlavägen in Stockholm. During the 1920s Ida Thoresen submitted an application to sculpt the planned Fredrika Bremer statue, a competition which engaged the whole body of artists for a decade, but it had already been earmarked for Sigrid Fridman. However, Ida Thoresen’s sketching for a full-body statue of the so-called Enköping doctor Ernst Westerlund was accepted. She had been one of his patients herself. The plans for a full-body statue had to be scrapped, but she completed a bust of Westerlund which was unveiled in Enköping in 1930. For this Ida Thoresen was awarded the Litteris et Artibus prize. In 1935 Ida Thoresen and Elisabet Barnekow spent several weeks in Scotland in order to make portraits of the marquis and marchioness of Aberdeen. Ida Thoresen has also made portraits of the Hungarian leader Horthy, Princess Eugénie, as well as several of herself and her life partner Elisabet Barnekow.
Ida Thoresen died in Stockholm in 1937. Even though she had created a family grave at the old cemetery in Örgryte in Gothenburg, she herself is actually buried next to Elisabet Barnekow at Sörby cemetery in Scania.