Swedish/Dutch artist 1913 - 1983
Both Swedish and Dutch cultures heavily influenced Folke Heybroek's artistic development and his signature aesthetic sensibility. Folke Heybroek was born in Amsterdam in 1913, the youngest of four brothers whose Swedish-born mother was the daughter of Kyrkoherde Carl Erik Svenoni, who had been Komminister in the Bishopric of Linköping Cathedral and whose father was a Dutch banker.
During a distinguished pupillage at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, Heybroek studied art under Heinrich Campendonck, a German-born painter, printmaker and stain-glass artist who became a lecturer in Decorative Art and later director of the department after emigrating to Holland in 1935 to escape persecution from the Nazis. Campendonck, a close friend of Paul Klee, was best known for his contribution to the pre-WWI Expressionist group "Rheinische Expressionisten" and Munich's Blue Rider exhibition in 1911.
To his students, he stressed the importance of working from life and engaging nature directly, by painting outdoors instead of in the studio. In his biography of Heybroek's life, "Art Titan," historian Michael Heybrook noted, "it was a great boon to Folke that, amidst so much rigid emphasis on draftsmanship, [in Campendonck] there was a teacher he could also greatly admire as an artist." Campendonck became Folke's mentor, and encouraged him to travel to Nordingrå, Sweden in 1938 to paint Impressionist genre scenes of the landscape and local fishermen at work.
In this famously beautiful village, Heybroek met his future wife, Brita Horn. Horn, who was the only child of aristocratic, intellectual parents, had studied at the Konstakademie in Stockholm. Eight years older than Heybroek, she had traveled extensively through Italy and Sicily, was already an accomplished painter and had written 'People and Paint,' a book of art criticism, when they met.
In 1939 and with full financial support from his parents, Horn and Heybroek married in a small ceremony at her parent's home in Birger Jarlsgatan, Stockholm. A month after their wedding, Heybroek staged his first solo exhibition at the Amsterdam gallery run by the well-regarded Dutch dealer C. van Lier. The show received mostly positive reviews in all of the significant Dutch newspapers. A review in De Telegraaf (equivalent to London's Telegraph) began, "this is a very happy debut for the 25-year-old painter."
Shortly afterward, Horn and Heybroek moved to Sicily. In 1939, they settled in Monreale, a town a few miles inland from Palermo, which would have been an ideal locale if the local Mafia had not dominated its infrastructure. Exacerbating the tensions in their new location was the impending rise of fascism through Italy. In 1940, the Italian authorities threatened to intern Heybroek, as a Dutch citizen. Horn, being Swedish, was able to employ her nation's neutral status to secure passage for her husband and herself back to Sweden. The arduous and often delayed trip was made more stressful by their knowledge that Horn was pregnant with the couple's first child. They finally returned safely to Sweden, moved to Mariefred, a small town 60km outside Stockholm, where Horn gave birth to a daughter, Mieke Marion, on June 21, 1940.
In 1941 Heybroek signed a contract to be represented by the Gummeson gallery, located in Stockholm's old harbour. Heybroek had his first exhibition with the gallery, which still exists, in 1942. He sold the majority of his works from the show, which consisted of 30 oil paintings, 10 gouaches and 20 drawings. In addition to the show's financial success, Heybroek also garnered critical acclaim with reviews in 11 Swedish newspapers and 3 of Holland's main-steam publications.
Heybroek's expressionistic aesthetic was heavily influenced by Holland's most famous contribution to recent art history, Van Gogh. But despite stylistic similarities between the artists, neither Heybroek's work nor his life contained any trace of van Gogh's tragic maudlin tendencies. Critic Otto Carlsund pointed out in 1944, "Folke Heybroek, already known as a highly spiritual and refined draftsman, shows that not everyone from his country, Holland, degenerates into a Van Gogh." Yet despite Carlsund's flip dismissal of Van Gogh, there are evident ties between Heybroek's joyfully optimistic imagery and Van Gogh's more tentative tenderness for his subjects. Both artists display a rich admiration for humanity. Though Van Gogh's benevolent feelings were not reciprocated during his lifetime, his legacy can clearly be seen in Heybroek's liberated break from representation and movement toward a distinctly Dutch palette.
In the year of his Gummeson show, Heybroek was also invited by the L.M.V machine tools company to design a mural for the hall where the company's 800 workers ate their meals. (The work, entitled "Midsummer," is now on view in the L.M.V Machine Tool Reception area.) This commission was the start of Heybroek's extensive and generous public art career in which he contributed installations, murals, public works sculptures and strained glass decoration to thirty-two churches and forty schools, as well as courthouses, community halls, banks, offices and factories. Many of these works still exist and can be seen by the public.
In addition to his contribution to Sweden's public art, Heybroek became An increasingly prominent and influential member Sweden's artistic community. Heybroek and Horn exhibited together and were both invited by the Eskilstuna Art Society to join as members. The couple had a second daughter, Beatrice Katrin, in 1945.
After developing a friendship with Alice Lund, an established interior designer, Heybroek began designing textiles. His professional partnership with Lund led to his colourful abstract designs being made into rugs, drapes and pictorial weavings. The most interesting product of their collaboration came in the form of a woven natural-dye mural Heybroek designed to hang behind the Judge's chair in the Borlange Courthouse.
By the early 1950s, Heybroek has been invited by Gebers, the Stockholm publishers who had put out Horn's book, to illustrate a survey of Greek mythology and a translation of the Illiad. Greek myths were an ideal subject for Heybroek, who frequently used visual allegory to illustrate his ideas. When he was commissioned by the Sala judicial center for Vastmanland to decorate the main entrance to a courthouse being built in 1959 by the Uppsala-based architect Sven Jonsson, Heybroek crafted a major iron-work sculpture depicting 14 animals whose physical characteristics symbolized human vices and virtues. In this menagerie, the pig represented excess, filth and fornication, a bear was the image of violent rage, the magpie symbolized kleptomania, chatter and slander, and a unicorn was the majestic embodiment of justice. It was a work that best combined Heybroek's mature ideological concerns and his charming and accessible style. Without being unduly didactic or flip in the context of a courthouse, Heybroek's sculpture added humour and warmth to a building created for a serious purpose.
Despite his enormous contribution to public art, however, Heybroek's primary focus was painting. In a 1964 interview for Uppsala Nya Tidning, he said, "I have experimented with many mediums but always at the core lie whatever intuitive impressions I have painted myself towards."
In 1983, Heybroek passed away. His life with Horn had been filled with warmth and a stream of friends supporting and stimulating their creativity. As Heybrook writes in Art Titan, "[His] commissions placed [Heybroek] firmly as the artist in society, answering needs and providing pleasure by skill and fantasy." Significantly, both of his daughters decided to become artists themselves. Mieke Marion's work strikingly evokes her father's fluid lines and graceful, expressionistic figuration and carries on his kind and poetic sensibility.