Karin Parrow was an eminent artist who was one of the few women in the circle of artists that came to be known as the Gothenburg Colourists (Göteborgskoloristerna).
Karin Parrow was born in 1900 on Vinga lighthouse island outside the Gothenburg harbour entrance. Her father, Carl Gunnar Taube was the lighthouse-keeper on the island and her mother Julia Jacobsdotter belonged to a lighthouse-keeper family in the west coast province of Bohuslän. Karin Parrow grew up in a sibling group of 13 children, five girls and eight boys. In 1906, the family moved into an eighteenth-century house situated close to the shipyard Kustens varv in the Gothenburg harbour estuary, later given the name Taubehuset (the Taube house).
According to Karin Parrow, the family was harmonious and it was believed that they had artistic ancestry in both parents’ backgrounds. They were musical, and the songs of Carl Michael Bellman were their main repertoire. Of the 13 children, three came to be professional artists: Karin Parrow’s sister Märta Taube-Ivarsson became a well-known sculptor and her brother Evert Taube a well-known poet and song-writer. A couple of brothers sang while accompanying themselves on the lute, in various contexts, and yet another brother, Gösta, made recordings of Evert Taube’s songs during the 1900s, when he was 86 years old. Three brothers became sea captains.
Karin Parrow trained first as an office clerk and was employed by the Lotskontoret (pilot office) in Gothenburg. In 1923, she worked as an au-pair in London, and the year after she was accepted at an art school in Paris. In 1926, she started at the Gothenburg art school Valand, where her teacher was the painter Tor Bjurström. Through his teaching, he disseminated an expressionist colour science worked out by Matisse, which inspired Karin Parrow and a number of other students. These painters were later named the Gothenburg Colourists. In the group were well-known names like Åke Göransson, Ivan Ivarson, Ragnar Sandberg and Inge Schiöler. This specifically western Swedish colour expressionism was based mainly on sensual and poetic colour experiences for which form was of a lesser significance.
During the 1930s, Karin Parrow exhibited almost every year at various group exhibitions. The reviews were mixed and contradictory in their assessments. One critic expressed himself lyrically about her painting of “a landscape the poetry of which I would have difficulty in forgetting”, while others considered that she was too dependent on and influenced by Carl Kylberg and Ivan Ivarson. Another critic of an exhibition of women painters, in which Karin Parrow was included, expressed his opinion of women painters: “The ladies have now also discovered the Palette […] these well-known painter-girls are displaying their latest products”. This critic saw variations on the theme of Kylberg, Ivarson and Sandberg in her paintings. One well-reputed critic wrote on the other hand, based on a student exhibition in 1929, that Karin Parrow was one of those who earliest had begun to focus on colour, which contradicts other critics who called her work a poor imitation.
Karin Parrow married sea captain Torsten Parrow in 1926. Since he was away for long periods of time, and their first child was born in 1939, she was relatively free to develop her own artistry and take part in the social life at Valand. Among her comrades in the artists’ club in Gothenburg, Karin Parrow was known to be “candid, quick to respond and short-tempered”, particularly in encounters concerning art politics. Her register of motifs was broad but mainly included landscapes, still life and portraits. She painted preferably in oils but sometimes also in watercolours. In descriptions of her paintings can be found terms like charged mood, light and airy painting but also a more impasto-style painting in bright, sharp colours that contrast with each other.
Karin Parrow had her first separate exhibition in 1941 at the gallery Modern konst i hemmiljö in Stockholm, and in 1945 she had an exhibition in Gothenburg at Galleri God konst. She received good reviews and was praised for having realised her intentions without sideways glances through the years. In a group exhibition at Konsthallen in Gothenburg in 1950, the critic Tord Bäckström pointed out that Karin Parrow was Karin Parrow first and last, and that the work exhibited showed that she had spurted into the front rank. The reviews were generally positive and emphasised her independence and artistic integrity. Despite that, she still ended up overshadowed by the male colourists.
During the 1960s, the depiction of light seemed to interest her more and more and her feeling for colour was obvious. During the next decades, many of the motifs were from the Gothenburg harbour suburb of Majorna, where she lived with a view out over the surroundings and the harbour entrance. Her motifs were every-day and characterised by realism. She held her final exhibition at the Majnabbe gallery in 1983.
Karin Parrow exhibited regularly, received good reviews and was a well-known name to art lovers. Nevertheless, she has seldom been mentioned when the Gothenburg colourists have been written about. One explanation is that in art assessments during the 1900s, it was men who were in focus as a rule. It was men who arranged exhibitions, men who wrote reviews and men who did research. Karin Parrow shared her fate with many other gifted women in the art world and many of them have later been emphasized and given the position and attention that they merited, for example Sigrid Hjertén. Karin Parrow has also been more appreciated and received more attention during recent years for her painting, and perhaps the explanation lies in the fact that nowadays women also arrange exhibitions and write reviews.
Karin Parrow died in 1984 at 84 years of age. She is buried in the Eastern Cemetery in Gothenburg. The year before her death, she had her final exhibition and in connection with that, summarised her life as an artist: “A handful of paintings are what I myself believe I have succeeded with. Creating a painting is one of the most difficult things to do!”