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Lövgren, Sven O.

    Full Name: Lövgren, Sven O.

    Other Names:

    • Sven Lövgren

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 20 February 1921

    Date Died: 13 January 1980

    Place Born: By, Sweden

    Place Died: Reno, Washoe, NV, USA

    Home Country/ies: Sweden

    Subject Area(s): iconography, symbolism (artistic concept), Symbolist, and symbols


    Historian of an early book on Symbolism; University of Nevada-Reno professor of art history. While working on his art history Ph.D. he translated and published the book History of Art by E. H. Grombrich into Swedish. His art history degree, from the University of Uppsala, was granted in 1959 with a dissertation written in English on French Symbolism. His dissertation was published the same year under the title The Genesis of Modernism: Seurat, Gauguin, van Gogh, and French Symbolism in the 1880’s, a ground-breaking approach to the under-appreciated period of Symbolism. He married Karin Liwendahl around this time. Lövgren revised a second edtion of a standard reference work, Rabén & Sjögrens Lexikon över modern konst as Lexikon över modern konst in 1965. In 1967 Lövgren immigrated to the United States, teaching initially at Indiana University. He lectured at the University of California, Berkeley, 1969-1970, before settling at the University of Nevada at Reno as professor of art history. He served as a member of the board of directors of the Nevada Art Museum there beginning in 1971. Lövgren taught a wide variety of courses in the small art history department and held a devoted following of students. His daughter-in-law is the curator/artist Rachelle Puryear (b. 1947), married to his son, Håkan Lövgren, a film scholar and translator. Lövgren was one of the early art historians to write on the cultural period known as Symbolism, a movement which had previously been subsumed under the concept of being “after Impressionism” (i.e., Post-Impressionism). His documentary approach to Symbolism contrasted with that of the other documentary art historian of this time, John Rewald, whose book, called Post-Impressionism, had appeared three years earlier. Instead of Rewald’s “choir of strident voices” approach, Lövgren mapped disparate art forms, poetry and novels onto the whole of Symbolist painting. His book discussed the social context (economic, political, etc.) of just three representative works of art, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (1889), Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte” (1884-1886), and Gauguin’s “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” (1888). A third text in English on Symbolism, by the Dutch art historian Hans Rookmaaker, appeared the same year. Unlike the other major Symbolist art scholar of his time, Robert Goldwater, Lövgren denied the suitability of the use of the term “Symbolism” for the period of art history.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] The Genesis of Modernism: Seurat, Gauguin, van Gogh, and French Symbolism in the 1880’s. University of Uppsala, 1959, published, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1959; “Bokstavsbilden och den bildande konsten.” Nordisk Boktryckarkonst no. 8 (1953): 245-249; “Il Rosso Fiorentino à Fountainbleau: une étude préliminaire inconographique du programme imagier dans la galerie François Ier.” in, Figura. I: Studies. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksells, 1951, pp. 57-76; translated (into Swedish) Gombrich, Ernst. Konstens historia. Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1954; Lexikon över modern konst. Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1965.


    “Historical Method and Post Impressionist Art.” Steefel, Jr. Lawrence D. Art Journal 21, no. 2 (Winter, 1961): 97-100; personal correspondence, Rachelle Puryear, March 2010, January 2011; personal correspondence, Howard Rosenberg, March 2010.

    Contributors: Lee Sorensen


    Lee Sorensen. "Lövgren, Sven O.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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