The artist simply known as Nerman rose to stardom creating charming caricatures of theatrical and musical celebrities in the Jazz Age of the 1920s and Hollywood stars in the 1930s. But Einer Nerman also did much advertising work, book illustration and was an accomplished painter.
Einer Nerman (October 6, 1888 – 1983) was born to a middle class family in the industrial city of Norrköping, Sweden where his father owned a bookstore. He had a twin brother Birger (6 October 1888 – 1971) who was an archaeologist and writer and an elder brother Ture (18 May 1886,– 7 October 1969) a socialist, journalist and political activist who became the leader of the Swedish Communist party.
When he was young, Nerman enjoyed drawing, including sketching performers in theatrical shows and he was greatly influenced by Aubrey Beardsley. It was no surprise that he moved to study art in Stockholm in 1905 and for three years attended art school at Knostforbudets. At the age of 19 in 1907, he had his first drawings published in a Swedish magazine. Then In 1910 he visited Paris and studied for a short time with Henri Matisse at the Academie Matisse before wandering around Europe.
He was back in Sweden by 1912 and studied music and dance and decided he wanted to go on the stage. Then in 1918 he met the popular English composer, actor and singer Ivor Novello. Novello was at the height of his fame as a composer of the most popular song of the Great War, Keep the Home Fires Burning. Novello went to Stockholm on a propaganda mission and sang pro-british songs in Rolf’s Cabaret night club. On the walls he saw Nerman’s décor and met the artist and his wife Kajsa and told him he ought to visit London and draw the stars of the London stage.
Nerman first visited London in 1919 as a ballet dancer in a variety bill at the London Coliseum. But when he learned he had to tour the regions he broke his contract and returned to Sweden. However, his experience did give him a unique understanding of how a dancer moves that was highly useful in transferring this insight to pen and ink. He clearly decided that being an artist was preferable to being a dancer.
At some point he worked with Kurt Atterberg of the Swedish ballet and designed all the costumes and sets for a show called Vierges Folles or Foolish Virgins that was staged in November 1920 at the Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris and then in November 1923 at the Century Theatre New York. His designs followed traditional Swedish folk imagery
and the costumes were rustic and brightly coloured and were perceived as being evocative of Hans Christian Andersen. The music equally followed old Swedish folk tunes.
Nerman made another visit to London in 1921 and within a few months his cartoons, pen and line drawings as well as watercolours and pastels were seen in many of the fashionable drawing rooms, private clubs, theatre lobbies and sports clubs. He was fortunate to be engaged by the editor of the Tatler to visit two plays per week and provide a page of drawings. His enchanting and provocative portrait of the all the major stars of the stage during the Jazz Age made him famous. His career blossomed to the extent that no new opening was considered complete unless the slender and properly groomed Swede was in attendance. He became well known to people like Bernard Shaw, Sir Henry Irving, Charles Hawtrey, Beatrice Lillie, Ellen terry, Mrs Patrick Campbell and others and was always a first nighter at Covent Garden Opera and knew all the leading singers including his favourite Nellie Melba. His attraction to music led to Eve magazine also offering him the opportunity to provide a monthly page of caricatures of celebrated singers, conductors and other musicians who performed at the Albert Hall and elsewhere.
In the early 1930s Nerman moved back to Sweden with his wife and three children but with the with the advent of World War 11 some friends decided to move to USA. His wife persuaded him to go and they stayed in America for ten years. Based in New York he worked for the Journal American and part of his assignment was to visit Hollywood and draw the stars of the screen, including the two Swedish stars Ingrid Bergman and Greta Garbo.
In 1950 he returned to Sweden and lived in an 18th Century house outside Stockholm. He composed music for many of his brother Ture’s poems and illustrated some of his brother’s book covers. He also illustrated many of the books by Selma Lagerlöf.
Nerman died in 1983.
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent