Born near Sweden's southern coast, Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt immigrated to the United States with his family in 1892. Olsson was his actual surname but he adopted his mother's maiden name, Nordfeldt, to avoid being confused with a maritime artist of a similar name.
Nordfeldt spent a year studying at the Art Institute of Chicago under Frederick_Richardson after which he was hired as an assistant muralist to artist Albert Herter for the Paris Exposition of 1900. While in Europe he continued his studies at the Académie Julian in Paris and Oxford University's Reading College. It was at the latter that he would study etching and Japanese woodblock printmaking, a great influence on his style. During this period, Nordfeldt would also return to Sweden, taking a seaside cottage in Jonstorp. Over two years he created many works inspired by the sea and shore, motifs he would return to again and again throughout his life.
Over the next fifteen years Nordfeldt would travel extensively in the United States and Europe. Painting, illustrating, exhibiting and eventually teaching, he lived for periods in artist enclaves in Chicago and Provincetown, New York. Living in artistic communities brought him into contact with many well-known artists and writers, his style evolving into a more Expressionist interpretation of color and form.
When the U.S. entered WWI in 1917, Nordfeldt registered for the draft in San Francisco, and was assigned to supervise camouflage of merchant ships. After the war, a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico would turn into a 20-year stay. The desert landscape inspired a turn to stark compositions, while continued travels to Europe fueled his admiration for Gauguin and Cézanne inspiring an intense, Fauvist color palette.
In the late 1930's the artist permanently returned to the Northeast, moving just outside New York City. In this period he said that "energetic paint application became his major preoccupation." As he moved into his later years, the sea again overtook his work and he created scenes of sea life in the colors of his youth in Sweden, reinterpreting these through his mature blending of Fauvism and Expressionism. It is thought that this most productive period of his life was influenced by a nostalgia for his early life by the sea in Sweden. At the time, it was said that his work had a "movement, vibrancy and joy" unseen before.
Nordfeldt exhibited in numerous museums and galleries and received many significant awards and prizes in the course of his career. Upon his death, the Metropolitan Museum of Art included Nordfeldt in a memorial exhibition as one of the five most important artists to have passed away between 1945 and 1955.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.
DeYoung/Legion of Honor Museum Collections, San Francisco, CA
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Denver Art Museum, CO
Harvard University Art Museums, MA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA