Gösta Adrian-Nilsson

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Gösta Adrian-Nilsson
Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, 1960
Born(1884-04-02)2 April 1884
Lund, Sweden
Died29 March 1965(1965-03-29) (aged 80)
Stockholm, Sweden
Known forPaintings
MovementModernism, avant-garde

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (2 April 1884 in Lund - 29 March 1965 in Stockholm), usually referred to as GAN, was a Swedish artist and writer. He is regarded as a pioneer of the Swedish modernist art movement.[1][2][3][4] His style was fluid with changing trends and contained elements of cubism, futurism, expressionism,[5] surrealism, avant-garde, progressivism,[2][6][4][7] romanticism,[citation needed] and abstract.[4][8]

His works primarily featured very masculine men, particularly sailors, labourers, and athletes, and elements of industry, such as factories, machines, and cars.[2][6][7][9][10][11][1][3] Despite being spurned by the Swedish press, Adrian-Nilsson was well-respected in avant-garde circles.[2]

Early life[edit]

Adrian-Nilsson was born on 2 April 1884 in Lund, Sweden to Anna and Nils Adrian-Nilsson.[2] His parents ran a hawker in town.[3][7] He later recalled being interested in his brother's geography book, both for the maps and for the illustrations of nude sailors.[2][3] Collections of poetry and illustrations from his childhood are now kept at Lund University Library.[2]

Adrian-Nilsson attended the local Cathedral School before moving to Malmö in 1904 for a pharmacy apprenticeship. There, he decided to pursue a career in art instead and moved to Stockholm, where he attended the Technical School. He finished in 1905 and worked as a designer for a furniture company before completing his mandatory military service the following year.[2]


In 1907, Adrian-Nilsson debuted as both a poet and an artist with an art exhibition at Lund University. This was the first time he used the pseudonym GAN.[6][7] His early artwork centered on Art Nouveau and often featured images of Oscar Wilde, whose openly homosexual lifestyle Adrian-Nilsson admired.[2][6] Around this time, he met Bengt Lidforss, a biologist from Lund University who was openly gay, and they left Sweden for Copenhagen in 1910.[2]

In Denmark, Adrian-Nilsson attended Kristian Zahrtmann's School, where he learned about post-impressionist art.[7][6] His artwork gradually became more progressive.[2] In January 1913, he moved to Berlin, where Lidforss put him in contact with the city's avant-garde community.[2][6][4][7] He met Nell and Herwarth Walden, a writer and an artist who owned Der Sturm Galerie.[7][6][3] Der Sturm was a major part of Berlin's progressive community, and through it Adrian-Nilsson encountered futurism, cubism,[4][7] and abstract art. He also became friends with Egon Östlund and other members of the Halmstad group.[3][12] His own art style became more abstract, influenced by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc.[4]

In summer 1914, Adrian-Nilsson was an artistic manager for Bruno Taut's Glass Pavilion at the Wekbund Exhibition in Cologne.[7][2] However, after learning his partner Karl Holmström had died suddenly of pneumonia in Lund, Adrian-Nilsson returned to his hometown.[7][6] Despite his departure, his work was shown in a Swedish Expressionist exhibition at Der Sturm in April and May 1915.[2] Eleven more paintings were shown at the gallery in 1917 in his absence.[7]

Adrian-Nilsson moved back to Stockholm in 1916 and continued producing artwork featuring athletes, soldiers, sailors, and labourers, along with symbols of industrialism such as factories.[2][6][7][9] Elements of prostitution and cruising also made appearances. Adrian-Nilsson contributed to journals and newspapers including Arbetet and the avant-garde journal flammen.[2][7] By 1919, he had become the "first artist working in Sweden to create purely abstract art."[2][4]

Adrian-Nilsson moved to Paris in June 1920. His studio was in the same building as Fernand Léger, who he became friends with.[9][7][10][3][2] He also befriended Alexander Archipenko and Wiwen Nilsson.[3] He experimented with Dadaist collage during the 1920s and his artwork became more "geometrically stylized."[11] He held a solo exhibition at Der Sturm in summer 1922 at the request of Herwarth Walden. He returned to Lund in 1925 and visited Berlin for the final time in November 1930.[6][3][7] In 1928, he designed costumes for the Royal Swedish Opera. Adrian-Nilsson moved to Stockholm in 1931, where he remained for the rest of his life. During the 1930s, his paintings became more surrealist; it was during this time that younger members of the Halmstad group were influenced by him.[4][2]

Adrian-Nilsson's work was snubbed by the Swedish press, with many critics calling his work "chaotic," though they rarely mentioned the sexual undertone of his paintings. Still, his homosexuality garnered disdain from the public.[1][6][3][2] He was, however, well-respected in avant-garde artistic and intellectual circles.[6][2] In addition to oil paintings, Adrian-Nilsson produced watercolour works and wrote poems, short stories, and children's books.[citation needed] His diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, and other works are preserved at the University Library of Lund.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Gösta Adrian-Nilsson's tombstone in Lund

From 1940, Adrian-Nilsson "liv[ed] in bitter voluntary isolation", spurred by his anger about not garnering the amount of success and recognition he felt he deserved.[6][2][3] He died in Stockholm on 29 March 1965[6][13] and was buried at Norra Kyrkogården (Northern Cemetery) in Lund.[3]

Adrian-Nilsson had two deeply impactful romantic relationships in his life. The first was with Karl Edvard Holmström, who he met in Lund in 1908 while cruising. Holmström was 16 and Adrian-Nilsson was 24. Adrian-Nilsson nicknamed him Ilja after the main character in Maxim Gorky's Three of Them; this is reflected in Adrian-Nilsson's portrait of Holmström, titled Ilja. Holmström accompanied him to Berlin in 1913 but returned to Sweden at the end of the year when he was recalled to work in an armaments factory. He died of pneumonia the following summer, which prompted Adrian-Nilsson to move home to Lund.[6][2]

In June 1917, Adrian-Nilsson met Edvin Andersson, a 22-year-old torpedo operator in the Swedish Navy, while cruising in a park. Adrian-Nilsson's exibition Sjömanskompositioner (Sailor Compositions) in 1918 was inspired by and dedicated to Andersson.[6][2][5] Following the end of World War I, Andersson changed his name to Edvin Ganborg, a nod to Adrian-Nilsson's alias GAN, "to indicate his alliance with the artist." The two fell out of contact for a period, wherein Andersson had married and had two children, but they reconnected in 1935. For several decades, alongside his full-time job as a machinist, he worked as an art dealer in Norrköping selling Adrian-Nilsson's paintings.[3][2]

Selected work[edit]

Adrian-Nilsson's artwork is held at the Nationalmuseum, Moderna Museet,[4] Gothenburg Museum of Art,[citation needed] Museum of Östergötland, Malmö Art Museum, and Waldemarsudde,[3] though the largest collection of his work is at Kulturen in Lund as part of its permanent modernist exhibit.[7]

Year Original title Title in English Notes Ref
1908 Självporträtt Self-portrait Oil painting [14]
Youth with burning heart Indian ink [15]
Ynglingen och döden Young man with death Gouache and watercolour [16]
1911-1912 Ilja Ilja Portrait of Karl Edvard Holmström [14]
1913 Tusch [14]
1914 Figur med hjärta Figure with Heart Watercolour [17]
1915 Jack Jack Watercolour [18]
1916-1917 Fantasi Fantasy Ink, watercolour, color chalk [19]
1917 Figurkomposition med matroser Ink [20]
Roddexercis Rodd [21]
1923 Akrobater Acrobats Watercolour, gouache, India ink, coloured pencil [22]
Bains Baths [23]
1924 Akrobater i Paris Acrobats in Paris Oil painting [24]
1926 Tjur och Matador III Bull and Matador III [25]
1927 Döende matador Dying Matador Oil painting [26]
1928 Inspiration Inspiration Oil painting [27]
1929 Skuggspel, Vårljusskymning Shaddows, twilight Oil painting [28][29]
1934 Ensam vandrare Lonely hiker Watercolour [30]
1949 Någon är död Someone is dead Mixed media [31]


  1. ^ a b c Martin Loeb (2002). Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History. Routledge. pp. 6–7. ISBN 0415159830.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Mann, Richard G. (2015). "Adrian-Nilsson, Gösta (GAN) (1884-1965)" (PDF). GLBTQ. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "GAN Gösta Adrian-Nilsson" (in Swedish). IDstories. September 2010. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Chilvers, Ian; Glaves-Smith, John (2015). A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art (3 ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780191792229.(subscription required)
  5. ^ a b "Sjömanskompositioner - färgens dramatik och stadens dynamik med Gösta Adrian-Nilsson May 30—Sep 29 2019" [Sailor's compositions - the drama of color and the dynamism of the city with Gösta Adrian-Nilsson May 30—Sep 29 2019] (in Swedish). Sven-Harrys konstmuseum. 2019. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Wuyts, Jolan (2021-06-24). "Men and machines: the queer art of Gösta Adrian-Nilsson". Europeana. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Torsten Ahlstrad, Jan (2012). "Berlin and the Swedish Avant-Garde – GAN, Nell Walden,. Viking Eggeling, Axel Olson and Bengt Österblom". In van den Berg, Hubert; Hautamäki, Irmeli; Hjartson, Benedikt; Jelsbak, Torben; Schönström, Rikard; Stounbjerg, Per; Ørum, Tania; Aagesen, Dorthe (eds.). A Cultural History of the Avant-Garde in the Nordic Countries 1900-1925. pp. 201–227. doi:10.1163/9789401208918_014.
  8. ^ Melikian, Souren (2006-10-27). "Discovering the many facets of Cubism". New York Times. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  9. ^ a b c Torsten Ahlstrand, Jan. "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Brinnande skepp"" (in Swedish). Bukowski Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  10. ^ a b Torsten Ahlstrand, Jan. "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Flotte"" (in Swedish). Bukowski Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  11. ^ a b "GAN, ADRIAN-NILSSON, GÖSTA". Galleri Melefors. Retrieved 2024-02-24.
  12. ^ Qvarnström, Ludwig, ed. (2018). Swedish Art History: A Selection of Introductory Texts (PDF). Vol. 18. Lund Studies in Arts and Cultural Science. p. 288.
  13. ^ Popova, Maria (2016-05-24). "Stunning Vintage Illustrations for Scheherazade's Stories and Scandinavian Fairy Tales by Swedish Modernist Pioneer and LGBT Visibility Trailblazer GAN". The Marginalian. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  14. ^ a b c Coulhart, John (2012-11-15). "The art of Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, 1884–1965". feuilleton. Retrieved 2019-10-08.
  15. ^ "Youth with burning heart, circa 1908". MutualArt. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  16. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (Sweden, 1884-1965): Young man with death". Bukowskis Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  17. ^ "Figur med hjärta - Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (GAN)". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  18. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Jack"". Bukowski Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  19. ^ "Fantasi - Gösta Adrian-Nilsson (GAN)". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  20. ^ "figurkomposition med matroser by gösta adrian-nilsson (gan)". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  21. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Roddexercis" ("Rodd")". Bukowskis Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  22. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Akrobater" (Acrobats)". Bukowskis Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  23. ^ "bains by gösta adrian-nilsson (gan)". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  24. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Akrobater i Paris" (Acrobats in Paris)". Bukowskis Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  25. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Tjur och Matador III" (Bull and Matador III)". Bukowskis Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  26. ^ "döende matador by gösta adrian-nilsson (gan)". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  27. ^ "inspiration by gösta adrian-nilsson (gan)". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  28. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Skuggspel, (Vårljusskymning)" (Shaddows, twilight)". Bukowskis Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  29. ^ "skuggspel, vårljusskymning by gösta adrian-nilsson (gan)". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  30. ^ "Gösta Adrian-Nilsson, "Ensam vandrare"". Bukowskis Auktioner. Retrieved 2024-02-25.
  31. ^ "Någon är död by Gösta Adrian-Nilsson". ArtNet. Retrieved 2024-02-25.