Thursday, 22 August 2013

Strindberg, the Berliner

One of the most popular meeting  places in Berlin in the 1890s was a wine cellar called 'Turkes', better known as 'Zum Schwarzen Ferkel', a name that Strindberg invented in reference to the sign above the door. 'The Ferkel' functioned as a delicatessen and off licence, with a couple of rooms set aside for customers who wanted to drink on the premises. The landlord, Gustav Turke, was said to have kept 900 varieties of liquor in stock. Strindberg was a frequent visitor and quickly gained a reputation as a prodigious drinker. He would also entertain the company by playing the guitar and singing songs that he had composed himself.
The 'Ferkel's' popularity may have had something to do with the fact that Herr Turke offered his customers generous credit and would sometimes take a work of art in lieu of payment. He accepted one of Stridnberg's paintings and promptly displayed it on the wall of the bar for many years.
The bohemian set gathered at the 'Ferkel' was headed by the temperamental Polish writer and womanizer Stanislaw Przybyszewski and the German poet Richard Dehmel, known as the 'wild man'.
Other writers in the circle included Adolf Paul and Karl August Tavastjerna from Finland and Holger Drachmann from Denmark. It was here that Strindberg first met the Norwegian painters Edvard Munch and Christian Krogh. Munch was another  'wild man' and just before he met Strindberg he had had an exhibition in Kristiania (Oslo) that had been forced to close because his avant-garde paintings had so shocked the visitors. Berliners were similarly shocked when the exhibition opened in their city but at least the authorities were tolerant enough to keep it open.
Munch encouraged Strindberg to paint and  became an important influence in his life.
Both Krogh and Munch painted portraits of Strindberg during this period. Ibsen bought Krogh's painting at an exhibition in 1895. 'It is really a portrait of Strindberg,' he wrote to his wife, Suzannah, 'but Sigurd calls it 'The Revolution' and I call it 'Madness Breaking Out.'
When Strindberg died Munch gave his portrait, which he had never sold, to the
Swedish Mational Museum. 'To be honest,' he wrote to them at the time, 'it feels empty in the room where Strindberg has been hanging for twenty years. To me, the picture is the incarnation of those two remarkable years in Berlin.'