Dick Beer (1893-1938)

The never-ending exploration of figurative art

Born and raised in London, active as a painter in France, Dick Beer is one of the Swedish masters of neo-impressionism and Cézanne-style cubism. A figurative artist not rarely in dispute with Nordic critics, Beer was a keen interpreter of the Entre-deux-guerres moods, such as life disillusions and nostalgic romanticism.

By Robert Amberlin (© 2002)

Beyond the « isms »

Neo-impressionism, expressionism, cubism, naturalism… Dick Beer didn’t “give a damn” about the big artistic movements, where critics of the epoch wanted to incorporate him. He did definitely not like words finishing by ism. He hated to be catalogued. “I am just a painter, voilà tou”, he explained with an apologizing smile to his many friends, intellectuals and fellow artists.

In a letter to his wife Ruth, staying behind in Sweden, he stated in April 1938, shortly before his demise due to a flue hardly treated, living a bohemian life in a rudimentary Paris studio:
“A painter is a colourist or he is nothing, everything depends on the colour. The form is important but should not impose itself. Anyhow, I feel that I have become more mature artistically. I definitely know where I am heading. Things are very clear.”

Beer was only 45 when he died, with quite a large production, showing a rare talent from his very first steps as an artist, a lot of facility to assimilate techniques and eager to take on various experiments, always in the figurative art (even when he tried out cubism). He felt that there was so much more to explore. The arts are so huge ! Looking on his work today, his evolution, the periods and different styles or approaches, many observers share the opinion that

Dick Beer who started to paint professionally very young, still had a wealth of creativity spared, not yet exploited, which would have taken him very far in some 20-25 more years of artistic career. What definitive paths would he have taken? We imagine landscapes where the colours, restrained but in the same time dense and strong, would have gone beyond the formal expression to melt nature and skies in an all, diluting formal frontiers in the colours chosen from the palette, in a very consequent way. A figurative artist who would thus take his revenge upon certain narrow-minded critics, becoming non-figurative without making any claims to be this or that. Even not going beyond middle-age, he could make critics furious because of his broad scope, switching expressions, making it extremely difficult to classify him. Just as prominent men or women may appreciate to change wardrobe, Beer’s personality stayed firm beneath the changes, and today we also discover that his painting, although varied, has many steady points, following the artist from period to period as a “fil d’Ariane”. Truth and consequence. And even the critics had to change their mind ! Dr Ragnar Hoppe, an art historian and eminent director at the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm, was one of Beer’s most ferocious adversaries during more than a decade. But in his monograph written in 1942, he recognizes the futility of old time’s battles:

Dick Beer had a particular sensitivity to grasp the ‘genius loci’, both the interior and exterior character of a landscape, its soul and its appearance. This talent was deeply rooted in his seeking personality. And in that light, we also understand his extensive travelling, his anguish, his joy, always reborn, to discover new things and situations. He never stopped, always on the move, in a frenzied rhythm.”