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Nils Gren
1893-1940

Theme/Style – Figurative art, landscapes, townscapes, still lifes, graphic arts

Media – Oils, murals, watercolors, graphite drawings, lithographs

Artistic Focus – The work of Nils Gren, though representational, seems to be as much about shape, texture, color, and shading as it is about the countryside, the towns, or the people and objects that inhabit his paintings. In 1932 the San Francisco Chronicle described Gren’s paintings in these terms: “There is a peculiar somberness, both of color and of light and shadow, in his work [and]... a certain characteristic twist of line and form [that] makes his pictures tensely alive.”

Career Highlights –

• Born Nils Ahgren in Sweden in 1893, Nils Gren left his native country in 1912, making what was intended to be a short stop in Australia. However, the advent of World War I made it necessary for Gren to remain in Sydney, and it was not until 1919 that he immigrated to the United States.
• Gren first lived in New York City where he worked for several years as a designer for a pattern manufacturer, but by 1925 Gren was living in southern California. He resided in Los Angeles, studying with Stanton Macdonald Wright and exhibiting with the Painters and Sculptors of Los Angeles in 1926, and with the Modern Art Society of Los Angeles that same year.
• In the late 1920s Nils Gren moved to San Francisco, exhibiting with the San Francisco Art Association in 1928 and 1929.
• Around 1930 Gren destroyed all his earlier work, but went on to produce paintings with what became his signature style – nocturnes and fantastic images of people, places and objects.
• Gren’s paintings were widely exhibited, including at the Paul Elder Gallery, where he had a solo show in 1932. His work also was exhibited in many museum shows, including the Oakland Art Gallery in 1932 and 1934, the San Francisco Museum of Art Inaugural Exhibition in 1935, the Palace of the Legion of Honor, and also at the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939 and California State Fairs throughout the decade.
• Also during the 1930s, Nils Gren produced lithographs for the Works Progress Administration, and worked with other artists on murals for San Francisco’s Mission High School. He also produced a colorful mural for his friend, restaurateur and former bootlegger Isadore Gomez, for Gomez’ 848 Pacific Street restaurant.
• A 1940 exhibition of Gren’s paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art prompted these comments from San Francisco Chronicle critic Alfred Frankenstein: “Mr. Gren’s best pictures are fantastic, moody, imaginative landscapes in oil, with the looping rhythms characteristic of his approach.” Later that same year Nils Gren passed away in San Francisco. His work is included in many public collections, including the Smithsonian Institution and the Oakland Museum.

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