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
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
• 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.
Additional biographical material and full bibliographic
references are available upon request.
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